A former local man, paralyzed by the one-car crash that killed his girlfriend, will serve probation after being convicted Monday afternoon in Vilas County Circuit Court of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.
Michael Fabian, 52, formerly of St. Germain and now of Columbus, where he moved to be closer to family and rehab facilities, pled no contest to the felony charge before Judge Neal Nielsen with attorney Chad Lynch at his side.
State prosecution and Vilas County District Attorney Martha Milanowski recommended a withheld sentence with three years probation and some conditional jail time. All other traffic charges — operating while intoxicated first offense, operating with a prohibited blood alcohol level and speeding — were dismissed.
Fabian was driving the Chevy Camaro of Kelly Sleeman, 43, in May 2018 around 9 p.m. in the town of Arbor Vitae when witnesses say Fabian was speeding and attempting to pass when he suddenly braked, swerved and crashed into a ditch in the town of Arbor Vitae, ejecting Fabian and restraining Sleeman inside. The car landed upside down. Sleeman died at the hospital.
“Kelly Sleeman would be 45 years old today,” Milanowski said. “She was a registered nurse. The mother of the victim has asked for leniency in this case.
“We do have a death. A death that could have been avoided by … not driving while drinking … it’s a terrible situation, for all involved,” Milanowski observed.
No family of Sleeman was present at the sentencing hearing, though Sleeman’s mother, Mindy Sleeman, did write a letter in support of Fabian in which she expressed her forgiveness. No restitution was requested by the Sleeman family.
“(Fabian) has apologized … I hold her accountable in her own death. She was drinking and made the choice to get in, as poor and as tragic as that choice was,” the letter from Mindy Sleeman read. “I feel no other punishment (to Fabian) is necessary.”
Fabian faced up to 25 years in prison, 15 of which would be in confinement.
“We couldn’t have a more serious offense here … Mr. Fabian has taken accountability,” Milanowski said.
“This is an absolute tragic accident,” he said, whose client suffered a fractured pelvis, large open wound on his leg, 13 fractured ribs, collapsed lung, fused spine that left him in a difficult physical and mental recovery — one which he is currently and will continue to work through, the public defender told the court.
“This was a tragic accident. I don’t believe it will happen again,” Lynch said, requesting no jail time for his client.
“I want to say I am deeply sorry,” Fabian said to Nielsen and the courtroom. “This tragedy weighs heavy on my heart and my mind every day … and I’m sorry to my family, who has had to live with my life-changing decision to drive home … my daily life is a constant reminder of what I have done … Kelly was the love of my life. She will be in my heart forever.”
Nielsen stated the incident was one of the most difficult situations his courtroom faces.
“These are terrible cases,” he relayed. “Nothing can be harder than your case … I can’t imagine how hard it is to go forward. I am really sorry for you, I truly am … these cases are always among the worst for a court to handle.”
Given Fabian’s permanent physical condition of paralysis and his mental anguish, Nielsen indicated, punishment the court could give would never be more that what he’d already endured and would continue to.
“There’s not a thing I can say or a punishment I can impose greater than what has already occurred to you,” he said. “I know that. I don’t think I can punish you more than what you have been punished.
“A person’s life has been lost, that never needed to happen. It’s a tragedy …. ,” the judge said.
Nielsen issued 36 months probation, no driving, no alcohol consumption or ownership, drug and alcohol counseling, 150 hours of community service — preferably with victim impact panels or recovery groups, $2,000 fine and court costs.
“These situations come along, and they are just devastating for both sides,” Nielsen said. “It’s just something that can’t be taken back. We do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”