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Utah high court reinstates prison sentence for driver in toddler’s DUI death

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a man convicted of killing a toddler in a DUI crash will serve his original prison sentence of up to 45 years behind bars.

After prevailing in the Utah Court of Appeals in January, Thomas Randall Ainsworth, 61, was scheduled for a new sentencing hearing Wednesday. The West Jordan resident had argued that he had been given a stiffer prison sentence under conflicting Utah statutes than someone convicted of a lesser offense.

Ainsworth tested positive for THC and methamphetamine after the Christmas Eve crash killed 18-month-old Colum Pack and injured his parents and a 3-year-old brother in 2011. Ainsworth claimed he was reaching for a cellphone that had fallen on the floor when his Suburban jumped the median near 9000 South and 700 West and slammed head-on into the American Fork family's Subaru Outback.

Ainsworth pleaded guilty in July 2013 to three counts of operating a vehicle and negligently causing injury or death, while maintaining his right to appeal.

Because of the illegal drugs in his system at the time of the crash, the charges were all second-degree felonies under the state's Measurable Amount Statute and Ainsworth was sentenced to three consecutive prison terms of at least one and up to 15 years in prison.

Under the Automobile Homicide Statute and the DUI With Serious Injury Statute, Ainsworth argued in his appeal that a similar crash caused by someone intoxicated to the point that he or she is incapable of operating a vehicle would have carried only third-degree felony charges.

The appellate court agreed, saying the two statutes "apply to individuals under the influence of 'any drug'" but who are intoxicated to a greater degree.

But in a decision handed down in September, the Utah Supreme Court noted that the Measurable Amount Statute applies specifically to controlled substances and that the decision to prosecute a case under one statute rather than the other is not arbitrary.

"We see nothing irrational in that decision. Schedule I and II drugs are those viewed as having a greater potential for abuse and a greater risk of dependence than other controlled substances," said the decision penned by Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee.

The high court's decision reinstated Ainsworth's original prison sentence.

In his appeal, Ainsworth also argued that the imposition of consecutive sentences in the original case was excessive. Both the appellate and supreme courts upheld the decision.