VALPARAISO | A 22-year-old Kouts woman was sentenced Monday to serve 60 days in the Porter County Jail and perform 30 days of community service for a 2008 high-speed car wreck that killed her friend 16-year-old Kelly Mercaldo.
Alyssa Brown was driving another friend's new Ford Mustang on Oct. 3, 2008, according to testimony, when she decided to test the car's speed. She failed to stop at a sign, and intentionally jumped railroad tracks driving more than 80 mph on County Road 450 East in Morgan Township.
The car went airborne for 80 feet before slamming into a tree, killing Mercaldo, a Valparaiso High School student.
Brown appeared before Porter Superior Judge Roger Bradford and pleaded guilty to an amended charge of criminal recklessness inflicting serious injury, a Class D felony, and read from a statement during sentencing, saying she was remorseful for her role in the crash.
"I had never been down that road before and driving that car was not about driving fast or showing off. My last conversation with Kelly (Mercaldo) was asking me to drive faster because (her boyfriend) was waiting for her," Brown said.
Robin Rock, Brown’s mother, said her daughter has changed since the wreck.
"It's not the same person you see sitting before you here today. She’s a different person now because of this accident," Rock said. "She was very suicidal. After she graduated from high school, she had to drop out of Purdue because her grades were so poor. But she has re-enrolled and she's doing better in her studies."
She said Brown would like to major in psychology with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vic Mercaldo, Kelly’s father, spoke of the endless trauma he and his family have had to face since his daughter's death.
"You have no idea what it’s like to tell two 6-year-old kids their sister is not coming home anymore. Do you know what it's like to sleep in a cemetery and wake up at 4 in the morning with snow on you? Because I do. You're responsible for that. It will never be over for us," Mercaldo said.
Kelly's mother Nancy Brooks placed a photo of her daughter on the stand as she spoke.
"My arms ache with the pain of not being able to touch my child. You placed more importance on showing off than in the value of her life," Brooks said.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Bennett said Brown chose to drive her friend's Mustang instead of her own car, chose to drive two-times the speed limit to show off, and chose to jump the railroad tracks. He called for the maximum sentence of three years.
Bradford agreed and sentenced Brown to three years, but then suspended all but 90 days of the sentence so Brown can "maybe do some good" by speaking to groups about "how it affected you and how it has affected Kelly’s family and friends."
He ordered Brown to report to jail Dec. 15, the day after he said Purdue finishes final exams, and will be released Jan. 13, 2013, "in time for school."
*Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
The Times incorrectly reported the owner of the car involved in a 2008 fatal accident that killed Kelly Mercaldo. The story should have stated the car was owned by a friend of Alyssa Brown, who was driving the car. The Times regrets the error.