A Fillmore woman was sentenced Thursday in connection with an Oct. 12, 2007 car crash that killed her husband.
Tonya M. Benassi, 35, pleaded guilty to a charge of Class C felony reckless homicide. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley sentenced her to four years with two-and-a-half years executed and credit for the 364 days she has been incarcerated at the Putnam County Jail.
According to police reports, Benassi and her husband Tracy were driving their mid-1990s Chevrolet Camaro on C.R. 75N (Right-of-Way Road) near Fillmore on Oct. 12, 2007 when the vehicle left the roadway and landed on the railroad tracks below.
Both of the Benassis were airlifted to the hospital following the accident. Tracy, 34, died the next day at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Tonya Benassi was arrested in December 2007.
In an unrelated case, Headley sentenced Benassi to 18 months with nine months suspended for Class D felony welfare fraud. That sentence will run consecutively with the reckless homicide sentence.
A tale filled with physical and verbal abuse, drug use and family dysfunction unfolded as the state and Benassi's attorney, Cheryl Danberry, presented their cases before the sentence was handed down.
Danberry asked the judge to consider giving her client time served.
"I feel my kids have suffered enough," Benassi said. "I need to be back with them. I need to get stable and on my feet."
Benassi told the court she and her husband had been together for 16 years and married for 13 when he died. The couple had two children together, a son who is now 15 and daughter, 14. The children are living with their paternal grandfather.
A no contact order was put into effect for Benassi and her daughter, who was named as a potential witness in the case. Headley lifted that order on Thursday.
"We were all right until the last year," Benassi said in court. "It was good. There was some abuse, but I loved him. We would get into fights, he'd get arrested and I'd go back. I loved him and I thought I could change him."
The accident happened, Benassi said, because of a fight that was brewing between she and Tracy as she drove the car that day. The couple had just been to Arby's, Benassi said, and Tracy became angry for reasons she said she couldn't remember.
"We were arguing," she said. "I asked if I could have cheese stick, and he threw them in my face and knocked the car out of gear."
Benassi said she was only going about 45 miles per hour when this happened. She told the court she managed to get the car back into gear and "floored it" in an attempt to "hurry up and get home" because her husband was becoming angry.
"I knew we were ready to get into a fight and I wanted to get away from him," she said.
Putnam County Prosecutor's Office investigator Charles Bollinger testified in court Thursday that the vehicle was traveling at least 94 miles per hour when the crash occurred.
Benassi said Tracy jerked the steering wheel, causing the car to go off the road.
Danberry asked Benassi if verbal aggression was "more or less your pattern of communication" between her and her husband, and Benassi agreed that it was.
The Benassis had also dealt for many years with Child Protective Services.
Their son, who has attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity disorder and is hearing impaired, was removed from the home in 2007. Benassi's welfare fraud charge was the result of her receiving Social Security benefits for the boy for several months after he was removed from the home.
Benassi said she had suffered for many years from anxiety and panic attacks. She has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which was masked for a time because she was using marijuana and methamphetamines.
Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter called the Benassis "the poster family for family dysfunction."
"I don't think she's been honest with the court today," Bookwalter, who asked the judge to impose a seven-year sentence with six years executed, said. "She's created a situation where she's left two children fatherless."
"You folks were clearly out of control," he said. "Hopefully this will end this extremely tragic situation."