The 18-year-old had no driver’s license, no insurance and no business driving that Saturday in April 2020 — her blood-alcohol content was .217, far above the .08 limit for drivers.
It showed. Driving a Chrysler Concorde, Juliana Townsell hung a right at 45th and Maple streets, struck a parked car, then jumped a median and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Cierre Hudson, 32. In Hudson’s vehicle were five children, including 9-year-old son James.
James suffered a traumatic brain injury, endured at least eight surgeries and had to relearn to walk.
A year later, Townsell had no words. Sitting in a Douglas County courtroom, she declined to address a judge, though her attorney said she “genuinely regrets what happened to the victims.”
Judge Timothy Burns didn’t dispute that. But he said Townsell’s careless acts that day left him little choice. He sentenced Townsell last week to 18 months in prison, to be followed by 18 months of supervised release. Under a state law that cuts most sentences in half, Townsell will serve nine months. She faced a maximum of three years in prison.
Hudson and her children are still healing from Townsell vaulting her Concorde into Hudson’s Nissan.
On April 8, 2020, the Hudsons were on their way from church at 5 p.m. Saturday, a block from home. As she drove on Maple Street, Hudson said, she barely saw the car careening into her, leaving her and her children dazed and James near death.
Hudson suffered a large gash to her head that required three layers of staples and stitches. Daughter Amirah, then 12, had to have portions of her intestines removed and was hospitalized for a week and a half.
And then there was James. Doctors didn’t know if the diminutive 9-year-old would make it. Knocked out by the crash, he suffered blunt force trauma to the head and critical injuries to his organs. A kidney shifted inside him, requiring doctors to move it back in place. He had to have a urostomy bag. And he suffered a stroke, causing the left side of his body to droop.
After three weeks at the Nebraska Medical Center, he spent another six weeks at Madonna Rehabilitation Center.
In a wheelchair for his first couple of weeks at Madonna, the spunky, fun-loving kid struggled through parts of his recovery. The brain injury affected his personality, grandma Shauna Lyons said.
“He’s always been the goofy, sweet kid,” she said. “He became kind of snappy and bossy at times.”
Little wonder. He was in the hospital at the worst possible time for an exuberant kid — when coronavirus protocols essentially kept all but his mom and dad away.
“It was awful not being able to see him and him not be able to see us,” Lyons said.
“God doesn’t give you obstacles you can’t handle,” Hudson told her son.
On June 17, 2020, more than two months after the wreck, he rose out of his wheelchair, standing on his own for the first time. A video Mom took shows James in an “Avengers” T-shirt, looking around and dancing a little jig.
Hudson and Lyons said they’re thankful for the doctors and nurses at Nebraska Medicine and Madonna.
“I see glimpses of his old self coming through,” Hudson said.
“Oh yes,” Lyons said. “He’s very blessed. He’s a walking blessing.”
She won’t for awhile. Burns revoked her driving privileges for anywhere from two to five years.
Lyons and Hudson said they were disappointed that Townsell didn’t voice her remorse, other than through her attorney.
Hudson, who works in social services, said the public tends to overlook drunken-driving crashes in which the victims survive.
“People assume everything is going to be OK, but it’s not,” Hudson said. “I’m just glad I still have my babies here with me. But we’ve been through a lot. That one decision she made affected an entire family.”
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Former coach, security guard accused of rape
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Shooting of Officer Jeffrey Wittstruck
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Man acquitted in 2016 drive-by killing
Woman accused in slayings of two men
Man sentenced in debit card scheme
Death row inmate dies at 55
Former Husker Katerian LeGrone acquitted
Man convicted in fatal crash
Man pleads no contest to killing sex offender
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Shooting at Westroads Mall
Convicted murderer, child molester dies
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Cold case heats up
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Teens charged with attempted murder
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Man arrested in April 2020 slaying
Omahan charged in fatal shooting of two men
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Man accused of committing and filming heinous crime
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Man charged in November 2020 slaying
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Violent hour: 1 killed, 4 wounded in 2 shootings
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In this Series
- 50 updates