Report: Cook only one to get, or apply for, diversion on charge

2011-11-16T18:00:00Z 2011-11-16T20:35:06Z Report: Cook only one to get, or apply for, diversion on chargeBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
November 16, 2011 6:00 pm  • 

Lauren Cook was the only person to get pretrial diversion for leaving the scene of a property or injury accident in Lancaster County in the past three years.

But, then again, she was the only one to apply for it.

County Attorney Joe Kelly released the information in a three-page letter this week in response to a record request by defense attorney Korey Reiman.

Kelly stood by the decision, saying his office knew of no one similarly situated who had been denied admission into the program.

"You evaluate the case on the facts, and that's what we did," he said.

Lincoln police say the University of Nebraska-Lincoln volleyball player sideswiped a motorcycle parked on the edge of the road on Oct. 30, leaving 30-year-old Nathan Kollars with a broken leg and his passenger with scrapes after she was thrown to the ground.

They say Cook kept driving but called 911 from her disabled car within minutes.

Kelly said he agreed with diversion for her because she was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time and called to report the accident soon after it happened.

Reiman said he personally didn't have a problem with Cook getting diversion and supports diversion in general for the money it saves taxpayers and the chance it gives first-time offenders to redeem themselves.

"Sure, I would have given her diversion," he said Wednesday.

But, he said, he sought the records of others who had applied for and gotten pretrial diversion for leaving the scene of a property accident or leaving the scene of an injury accident after he heard people talking like it happened all the time.

Reiman said he knew that was wrong.

A couple of years ago, he said, he had contacted Diversion Services about a 65-year-old client who never had so much as a traffic ticket when she backed out of her parking spot at a grocery store and accidentally hit a parked car.

He said his client didn't even realize she had hit the car but ended up charged after a witness took down her license plate number.

He said a staff member told him she wouldn't qualify because of the charge, so she didn't apply.

In the end, her case was reduced to an infraction, he said, but his client would have rather not had it on her record at all.

"Unfortunately, we were told wrong," Reiman said.

Kelly said while Cook's charge is ineligible for the STOP class, it isn't on a list of specific offenses eligible or ineligible for pretrial division, which means it's considered on a case-by-case basis.

"No, I don't think we treated her any different," he said.

The key factors to him: Alcohol or drugs weren't involved, and Cook called police within minutes.

Kelly said in some ways the stakes are higher for people on diversion because if they mess up in the next year, they start over again with a felony.

Still, Cook's case has left some people wondering if she got preferential treatment. When asked, Reiman stopped short, saying he didn't know.

It's rare for someone to bond out of jail if arrested on a felony over a weekend, like Cook did, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, he said.

"Did her case receive different treatment?" he asked, stressing the word different. "Of course it did."

Count Public Defender Dennis Keefe among those who approve of the decision to give Cook diversion.

"This was a circumstance where they didn't need to waste judicial, attorney and system resources," he said.

In fact, he said, he'd like to see more opportunities for diversion in the future and eligibility for every non-violent crime.

"We don't need to tag people with felonies for life," Keefe said.

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger. Jordan Pascale contributed to this report.

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