Daughters prove to be magnanimous in wake of mother's death

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News
Over the span of his 42-year legal career, Bill Richards has worked as a federal prosecutor, a deputy attorney general, and a district court judge.
And despite that breadth of legal experience, Richards wasn’t prepared for what he heard in Southfield’s 46th District Court some six weeks ago – either as a jurist or as a man of faith.
In short, Judge Richards witnessed “the most generous outpouring of forgiveness and compassion for another human being that I have seen in 7 years on the bench or that I have ever seen in my life.”
His statement came in the context of a sentencing hearing on April 16 in which the defendant, a then 66-year-old woman from Farmington Hills faced the strong likelihood of jail time for her role in a fatal two-car accident last summer.
The crash, which occurred on August 10, 2013, claimed the life of Patricia A. Shaw of Monroe, who was the passenger in a car driven by her friend, William J. Cortese. The two were traveling west along 11 Mile Road at the Lahser Road intersection when they were broadsided by a 2013 Chevrolet Impala driven by Linda F. Nokes of Farmington Hills.
According to an investigation conducted by Southfield Police, Nokes was headed southbound on Lahser around 6:15 p.m. when she mistakenly ran a red light, plowing into a 1969 Mercury Cougar, killing Shaw and causing serious injuries to Cortese.
Nokes was headed home from her job in Troy when the accident took place, telling police that she believed that she had the green light when approaching the intersection. Cortese and Shaw were returning from a car show during Dream Cruise week and were looking for a place to eat in Southfield when the crash occurred, according to a police interview of Cortese while he was hospitalized. Cortese reportedly suffered a broken arm and a broken hip in the crash, and received in-home medical care for several months while recovering.
Several eyewitness accounts and a video recording of the crash taken from a surveillance system at a nearby gas station confirmed that Nokes ran the red light and was solely at fault, according to the police investigation.
Investigators indicated that there was no evidence of drug or alcohol use by Nokes, and that she had not been texting or talking on a cell phone when the accident happened. At impact, she was traveling at a speed estimated between 43-46 mph, police stated. Nokes, according to police, suffered no injuries in the crash.
By all accounts, Nokes had a spotless driving record and has been a valuable employee at Depor Industries, Inc. in Troy. The general manager of the metal finishing operation, Ted Howard, submitted to the court a letter of support for Nokes, indicating how “he wishes his children could grow up to be a person like her.” Howard, in fact, has helped supply Nokes with a ride to work each day since her driver’s license was automatically suspended for a year following the fatal collision. 
At the sentencing proceeding on April 16, Nokes’s attorney, Juan Mateo of Detroit, stressed that “this was a tragedy of unmitigated proportions” for which his client has expressed great remorse.
“There’s no question in my mind when she was driving that car on August the 10th last year, she thought she was going through a green light and unfortunately she was wrong,” Mateo said, according to a transcript of the April 16 proceeding. “She has . . . struggled with . . . the reality of what she has caused,” he added, noting that “she has never been involved in any criminal behavior” and “she has no criminal history” on her record. 
“All she does is work,” Mateo told the court. “She lives alone and she goes to work.”
Nokes, when afforded the opportunity to address the court, was brief in her remarks, saying, “how sorry I am that the whole thing happened and I wish there was something I could do to change it, but there’s not.” 
The admission resonated with sisters Haliegh and Adrienne Diehl, daughters of the crash victim. The two appeared at the April 16 hearing, each addressing the court before the sentencing was imposed.
“I just wanna say that  . . . the only thing that we all want is for my mom to be back,” Haliegh Diehl said, tears streaming down her face. “But that’s not possible. And I understand that this was an accident and what my mom was very passionate about was veterans and helping out a lot of people,” she added, urging the court to sentence Nokes to community service work on behalf of veterans instead of jail time.
A full time student at Monroe Community College, the 19-year-old Diehl is pursuing a degree in criminal justice, a fact not lost on Judge Richards.
“There certainly is some irony there,” Richards told Diehl before listening to a statement from her 20-year-old sister, Adrienne, a line supervisor at Howard Ternes Packaging.
The loss, said Adrienne, has been devastating to the entire family, which includes Diehl’s 23-year-old brother and their grandparents.
“My mom was my best friend, so I was with her every day,” Diehl said. “I live 5 minutes from her. And I agree with my sister, I don’t think jail time is necessary at all. It was an accident. It could have been the other way around, she could have hit her. I just feel like she (Nokes) needs to know. I understand the remorse, I understand the sorries, but it just changed us a lot.”  
When asked by Richards to expound, Diehl reiterated that her mother “was my best friend” in life.
“I told her everything. I talked to her every day,” Diehl said. “We’ve already had to go through Christmas without her; it’s her favorite holiday. She won’t be able to see us get married.  She won’t be able to see us have kids.  She won’t be able to see us at anything. She’s not here.”
Now, said Diehl’s sister, Haliegh, “When we visit her, we have to visit a gravesite instead of actually going and seeing her.”
Following the statements by the sisters, Richards adjourned the proceedings, offering him some time to “fully process what I had just heard” and to “revise my sentence” for Nokes. Upon his return to the courtroom some 20 minutes later, Richards had words of praise for the Diehl sisters.
“Haliegh and Adrienne, if I see your mother in both of you and I think I do, your mother is very proud of you today,” Richards said. “You have somehow overcome your grief at her premature death to help bring a sense of justice to this courtroom. You have not given in to any of our basic instincts that could arise in the wake of this tragedy. You’ve not given in to anger, revenge or hate. You have risen above these reactions to show compassion, forgiveness, and understanding far beyond your years and I’m proud of you for that as I’m sure your mother, father, and grandparents are. May we all learn from your profound example today and how beauty and justice can arise from tragedy. I believe you will heal faster and more completely because . . . of what you have done here today.”
Accordingly, Richards opted not to sentence Nokes to any jail time, instead placing her on 18 months probation, while ordering her to pay a series of court-mandated fines and costs, and restitution for any uninsured medical expenses faced by Mr. Cortese, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash.  In line with the wishes of the decedent’s family, the probation also includes volunteer work at a Veterans Administration Hospital.
In February, Nokes pleaded guilty to: (1) committing a moving violation causing death; and (2) committing a moving violation causing serious impairment of a bodily function.
“I’ve thought about this case many times over the weeks and months that it’s been pending on my docket, particularly since you pleaded guilty back in February and I, too, have come to the conclusion that this was an accident in every sense of the word, although it had devastating consequences,” Judge Richards told Nokes. “It truly is a lesson to all of us to pay more attention while we’re driving and the severe consequences if we don’t.”
On Good Friday, two days after he issued the sentence, Richards took a trip to Monroe to visit the gravesite of Shaw in a rural cemetery. By chance, Richards crossed paths with Shaw’s son, D.J., as well as her close friends, Kim and Jim Stewart of Monroe.
A few weeks later, Richards wrote a letter to the Diehl sisters, saluting them for their strength and compassion.
“I have told many people about your story,” Richards wrote to the sisters. “Anyone who listened to your story could tell that you both loved your Mother. They could tell you miss your Mother. And they could tell that you were deeply wounded by the loss of your Mother.
“Yet, you showed incredible compassion and understanding in not asking for jail sentences,” Richards said. “I told your story to an attorney in my court today. He said you were both magnanimous. That describes you well. Not many people are magnanimous. It is easier to ask for vengeance.”
Added Richards:
“Let us hope that your example can lead others to honor you and your Mother by living the values that your Mother taught you, and that you so nobly expressed.”