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‘A little slap in the face’: Families upset after driver gets youthful offender status in triple fatal crash

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A 19-year-old was given youthful offender status in her sentencing to 1⅓ to 4 years in jail stemming from a crash that killed three people in February 2023, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said Monday.

Jayla Mueller of Colden was driving on the Audubon Parkway in Amherst around 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2023 when she lost control of the vehicle in the ramp onto Millersport Highway.

Three passengers — 18-year-old Azathiel Pabon, 19-year-old Isabella French and 20-year-old Dakota Eldridge — died in the crash. Another 17-year-old male was injured.

Mueller pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree manslaughter and reckless driving in April.

When Mueller pleaded, Judge Susan Eagan committed to sentencing her as a youthful offender under conditions that she not get arrested, comply with the pre-sentence investigation and appear in court for sentencing. She was eligible for youthful offender status due to her age at the time of the crash.

The District Attorney’s office said in a news release Monday that it opposed Mueller being given youthful offender status and asked the court for the maximum sentence, which she received.

The families of the victims also opposed youthful offender status.

“Certain things we get caught up for, you can be 17 or 18 and they’re not trying to hear that youthful offender status,” said Michel Colondres, Pabon’s aunt. “So it’s kind of like a little slap in the face.”

Loved ones react to 19 year-old’s guilty plea in Amherst crash that killed 3 teens

Criminal defense attorney Barry Covert, who was not involved in the case, said that defendants can be given youthful offender status until they are 19 years old and said that it is standard practice that it is granted.

Mueller did apologize in court, but neither the judge nor the families believed she showed real remorse or has learned from the crash.

“She apologized but went on and on about how it affected her,” said Christina Kessel, Eldridge’s mother. “She was still all about [herself].”

Eagan said it was her hope that Mueller will serve all four years. However, it is possible that she will get out early.

“Like the judge said: I don’t think you get it,” Colondres said. “You’re still going to school, you’re still able to do all those things that got taken from them that second, at that time. The apology, I get it. I can sympathize for her. But it’s still, just like, alright, finally, I guess.”

As a condition of Mueller’s sentence, her driver’s license was revoked.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.

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