EVERETT — Her daughter was taken from her by a man who chose to drive drunk.
Janelle Cooper, 16, died on a Lynnwood street because Micah Pelton got behind the wheel of his pickup truck after he’d been out drinking. He was showing off for his friends, lost control and pinned the girl between metal and concrete.
Janelle didn’t stand a chance.
“My daughter was smashed to death,” Coleen Cooper said.
Pelton, 33, was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for the May 23 crash that killed Janelle and seriously injured her 16-year-old friend.
Pelton last month pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. He ran into the girls as they walked along 164th Street SW. The Snohomish man has a prior misdemeanor conviction for first-degree negligent driving involving alcohol.
Coleen Cooper could be swallowed up by anger.
She chooses not to be. Instead she focuses on the kids who call her mom — her son Joshua, and Janelle’s friends.
“So many people are angry for me. If I were to be angry, it would multiply. That bad feeling would take over. I need something positive,” she said before Monday’s hearing. “I need to set the tone for those kids.”
She leans on her faith in God. She draws strength from her daughter’s large group of friends — the legacy Janelle left behind.
The kids often stop by to visit. She sees them hesitate before knocking on the door. They call to tell her they’ve put the cross back up at the site of the crash. They call to check in.
A teenage girl’s voice on the other end of the phone saddens her for a moment, but she’s grateful they call.
“I love those kids. I love they still come to see me,” Coleen Cooper said. “They are a part of me because Janelle was a part of them.”
The courtroom was packed with young people Monday as Coleen Cooper and her son explained how Pelton had robbed them of a warm, generous and funny young woman.
She lifted them up. She encouraged them. She made life better.
Coleen Cooper’s hands shook as she described the girl she’s lost.
She misses the taste of fruity lotion and popcorn butter that came with kissing her daughter’s cheek. She misses hearing her daughter squeal at the news of snowfall. She misses the smell of her daughter’s hair, fresh from a shower.
“I just miss my daughter,” she said, her voice heavy with pain.
Pelton ruined the plans Joshua Cooper, 20, and his sister had for their lives. They were going to live near each other when they had families of their own. They wanted their kids to grow up more like siblings than cousins.
Pelton took that from him, Joshua Cooper said.
He asked Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Larry McKeeman to consider Pelton’s driving record since the crash. Police gave Pelton four more tickets after Janelle was killed. Then he got a speeding ticket after a judge ordered him not to have any more infractions while awaiting trial for the girl’s death.
He is a “child who doesn’t learn from his mistakes,” Joshua Cooper said.
Pelton, shackled and wearing a green jail uniform, wiped away tears and looked at the Coopers as they spoke.
Since the crash he has wanted to apologize in person, his attorney Eric Lindell told McKeeman. The attorney told Pelton he couldn’t until the case was resolved. That advice didn’t keep Pelton from often visiting the site of the crash, leaving flowers for a girl he never met, Lindell said.
“I’m so sad by how many people are affected by this,” Pelton said Monday. “It breaks my heart I’m responsible for this tragedy.”
A father of three young boys, Pelton said he would be devastated if his own sons were ever hurt.
“I will try to live my amends through my actions,” he said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, email@example.com.