Plea bargain deal reached in Grubbs case

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Emily Grubbs

Former Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Emily Grubbs accepted a plea bargain arrangement Dec. 19 during a hearing in the 294th District Courtroom in Canton.

Grubbs, 30, was indicted earlier this year for second degree manslaughter by a VZC Grand Jury involving the death of Lena Pettiet in a two-vehicle accident at the intersection of State Highways 64 and 243 in Canton that occurred Feb. 15, 2016.

According to accident reports, while enroute to an emergency call, Grubbs’ SUV “t-boned” the white 2012 Nissan sedan driven by Pettiet.

Reports indicated that the Chevy Tahoe’s emergency lights and sirens were activated at the time of the crash but reports also indicated that Grubbs had driven around stopped cars and was proceeding through the intersection and did not see the car driven by Pettiet. After undergoing numerous surgeries, Pettiet died from multiple injuries May 5, 2016.

Joe Leonard, filling in for VZC District Judge Teresa Drum, served as the presiding judge for the plea bargain hearing.

The case was originally investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and a charge of criminal negligent homicide against Grubbs was forwarded to the office of VZC District Attorney Chris Martin.

Martin presented the case to a VZC Grand Jury who returned an indictment of second degree manslaughter which is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of 2-20 years.

Grubbs and members of the Pettiet family held a face-to-face meeting two months ago in the VZC Courthouse, according to Martin.

Grubbs’ attorney and Martin’s office began working on a plea bargain arrangement with the backing of the Pettiet family.

Under the terms of the plea bargain agreement which was approved by Leonard Dec. 19, the charge against Grubbs was reduced to a Class A misdemeanor, deadly conduct, according to Martin.

Grubbs was sentenced to one day in the VZC Jail which she has already served, ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and surrender her peace officers license.

Grubbs is currently a dispatcher with the sheriff’s department and she is allowed to remain in that specific job under the terms of the plea bargain agreement.

Also as part of the plea bargain, Grubbs issued a formal apology during the court hearing to the Pettiet family.

“As I stated in our meeting two months ago, I am sorry,” said Grubbs with her lawyer standing by her side.

Members of Pettiet’s family were also given the opportunity to speak during the court hearing as Lena’s parents, Jim and Kim Pettiet along with Lena’s niece, Makenzie Pettiet, shared their feelings.

“Deputy Grubbs was driving over 80 miles an hour and Lena was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Kim Pettiet. “Lena survived the initial surgeries and we prayed for a miracle. God called her home to heaven on May 5, 2016. Lena was a great friend to many people. In addition to holding Emily Grubbs responsible, I also hold her training officer and the VZC Commissioners Court responsible for not providing the necessary funding for the sheriff’s department.”

“My stomach dropped when I found out about my aunt’s accident,” said Makenzie Pettiet. “The accident happened on my birthday. I prayed that what my mom was telling me was just a nightmare. A cop’s job is to save lives. I was angry with God. This has caused me so much pain. This was nothing more than a careless, avoidable mistake. I now have one less person in my life to celebrate Christmas with. My aunt left this world too soon. This has destroyed me and everyone my aunt knew.”

Speaking directly to Grubbs, Jim Pettiet said, “Lena and you were the victims of a system. There needs to be better evaluation on who is qualified to be driving on the streets. There is too much politics and personal agendas. The citizens of our county get what they pay for. We will continue to have major issues if we do not have good law enforcement. As a result of this accident, two families were destroyed.”

Following the hearing, Jim and Kim Pettiet discussed their feelings further about the accident and the plea bargain agreement.

“I realize that we might be taking some flack for agreeing to this plea bargain arrangement,” pointed out Jim Pettiet. “I really feel for that young lady (Grubbs). We did not want her to have to serve any prison time. We just believe that there needs to be better training and evaluation of our people that serve in law enforcement. People are losing respect for law enforcement. When we met with Emily Grubbs in October, we forgave her.”

“We just hope other officers make more intelligent decisions in the future,” said Kim Pettiet. “Please do not endanger the public when you are responding to an emergency. Just slow down. We all make mistakes. Lena was a free spirit. She was a registered nurse. She loved special needs kids. She lived life to the fullest.”

Martin is hopeful that the plea bargain agreement reached in the case will bring closure for the Pettiet family.

“After being indicted for manslaughter by the grand jury in June 2016, I began working alongside the Pettiet family to determine the expected outcome of the prosecution,” emphasized Martin. “After much consideration, negotiation and with the Pettiet family’s support, I constructed a plea bargain offer that required Emily Grubbs to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Throughout the prosecution, the Pettiet family remained steadfast that they simply wanted accountability and justice for the death of their daughter. Not once did they ever desire for Emily Grubbs to be put behind bars for her crime. They wanted her to accept responsibility for her actions, express some remorse for the life she took and be taken off the streets so that other lives were not placed in jeopardy. I believe the plea bargain Dec. 19 accomplished and satisfied the Pettiet family’s desire for justice for Lena. I often tell victims’ families that justice cannot be obtained in the halls of the courthouse for those who have lost their lives. There is no amount of punishment that equals a life nor will it ever bring a precious loved one back to us. To believe otherwise is foolish. Jim and Kim Pettiet’s ability to show grace to the person who killed their daughter has shown me the depth of their faith and hope. I want to commend Emily Grubbs and the Pettiet family for meeting and cooperating with us in reaching this plea bargain agreement.”

“The Pettiet family hopes this case will send a message to all drivers and especially those driving emergency vehicles, to use the utmost care when going through traffic and intersections,” summarized Martin. “As a driver, you have a legal duty to exercise care for those around you. A simple lapse in judgment or a poor choice can have everlasting effects on the lives of others and your own. Police officers should heed this warning as they are held to a higher standard of care and expected to safely respond to emergencies. Citizens deserve peace of mind that officers will not endanger lives and break the law while doing their jobs.”