Tearful plea agreement in 'Pray Out Loud' DUI case

Katie Lentz sat at the witness stand in a Ralls County courtroom Wednesday and described the pain wrought upon her at the hands of a drunken driver.

During her tearful statement, she described the week in intensive care and subsequent stay in the hospital.

She described the hundreds of hours of physical therapy, her continued fear of driving, the thought of maybe never getting to play the violin again, the pain of the head-on collision and the strength it took to stay awake and pray with the rescue workers who struggled to free her from the wreckage.

She described how once simple tasks like walking up a set of stairs are now a struggle since she's forced to walk with a cane.

The 20-year-old Quincy High School graduate cried softly as she described the isolation of watching her friends return to college as she stayed at her parents' home in Quincy to recover.

"I'm not supposed to be at home," she said as she read from the neatly typed statement. "I'm supposed to be a normal sophomore at Tulane."

As she spoke, Aaron Smith sat across the courtroom. He broke down and wept into a tissue as he prepared to take responsibility for how he changed Lentz's life.

Plea Agreement

Smith pleaded guilty to vehicular assault Wednesday in the Aug. 4 collision that injured Lentz.

As part of the agreement, Smith will spend 120 days in a Missouri state prison drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. Circuit Judge David Mobley will review the case after Smith completes the program and determine whether he'll serve the remaining five years of his sentence a free man on probation.

The judge accepted the plea agreement and will hand down his final sentence at a still undetermined court date. Mobley scheduled a status hearing for Jan. 8. Smith will remain on home confinement until his sentencing.

â??Something I'll Never Forgetâ??

Smith had just finished a night shift at his job. He drank four and a half Budweiser beers in a "very short time span" and set off toward home. It was on that drive that he collided with Lentz about 10 a.m. on a Sunday along Missouri 19 in Ralls County above five miles southwest of Center.

A blood sample taken at the crash scene revealed he had a blood-alcohol level of .131 percent. The legal threshold in the state of Missouri is .08. A second test taken at the hospital later revealed a blood-alcohol level of .079 percent.

"It's difficult for me to believe that four and a half beers got you to that .131 percent," the judge said. "You're being precise here."

"It's something I'll never forget," Smith said.

Then the judge did something that seemed to take most of the 10 people in the courtroom by surprise. He forced Smith to look Lentz in the eyes.

"You need to walk over there, face-to-face, and apologize to that young woman," a stern Mobley told Smith.

He took steps toward Lentz who now sat in the courtroom gallery surrounded by her parents and her siblings.

"I will never be able to forgive myself for what I've done to you and your family," Smith said as he broke down and began to weep. "If I could go back and give my life so as not to harm a hair on your head, I would do that."

Since the Aug. 4 collision with a drunk driver on a rural Ralls County highway, Lentz has spent more than 800 hours in the hospital and in physical therapy. Mobley sentenced Smith to serve just as much time in community service. Some of that time he'll spend talking to high school students about the dangers of drunken driving.

He'll also be required to pay $2,000 to Lentz for the personal effects like her laptop computer. Lentz is expected to file a civil lawsuit against Smith that would include a demand for financial restitution for medical bills and other expenses.

Pray Out Loud

Lentz's case drew national attention thanks to a mystery surrounding a priest who appeared at the scene and prayed with rescue workers as they struggled to free Lentz from the car. The priest was later identified as Rev. Patrick Dowling of the Jefferson City Diocese. He eventually came forward and admitted that he was at the scene of the crash.

Dowling eventually met with Lentz. She didn't mention him during her statement Wednesday in court.

Lentz and her family said that they won't attend any of Smith's future court dates. She said that she'll attempt to recover as much as her body will recover and try to lead the typical life of a college student.

â??I think the 800 hours of community service will be a very powerful reminder to you of every hour that I've been in pain,â?? she said.