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Woman sentenced in Columbia Falls teen's death

by By DERRICK PERKINS
| March 31, 2022 7:05 PM

Lifting a blue urn containing Brooke Hanson’s remains up to eye level, Jessie Hanson stared at her daughter’s killer from the witness stand in Flathead County District Court on Thursday.

“This is what you did,” she said, voice quavering during Jessica Adena Farbstein’s sentencing. “This is my little girl’s body.”

Farbstein, the woman who struck and killed Brooke Hanson in May 2021 while driving under the influence, earned a 30-year sentence with 15 years suspended on March 31. She pleaded guilty to felony vehicular homicide while under the influence earlier this year.

Judge Amy Eddy handed down the sentence just days after what would have been the teenager’s 16th birthday, remanding Farbstein to the Montana Women’s Prison. Farbstein received credit for 14 days of time served and was ordered to pay court fees.

“I’m supposed to be taking her to get her driver’s license, not confronting you,” Jessie Hanson said, fighting through tears.

Police officers in Whitefish arrested Farbstein following the deadly collision on Tamarack Lane in Columbia Falls, court documents said. At the time, she allegedly told officers she thought she hit a mailbox.

But she had struck Brooke Hanson, who was walking single file along the road with several others about 9:40 p.m., relatives testified this week. The collision threw the teenager into a nearby ditch, according to authorities. First responders took her to Logan Health in Kalispell, where she succumbed to her injuries.

Making a statement before the court on Thursday, Farbstein repeated that claim, saying she only realized the severity of the situation as police officers questioned her. She acknowledged making “horrible” choices the night of Brooke Hanson’s death, including getting behind the wheel drunk and looking at her mobile phone when she struck the teenager.

“There are no excuses for what I’ve done,” she said, reading from a letter she said she attempted to send the family. “I take responsibility for my awful actions that have led to this awful accident.”

Both Brooke Hanson’s mother and father exited the courtroom prior to Farbstein reading her statement.

Deputy County Attorney Andrew Clegg, who recommended the sentence, said it provided punishment and an opportunity for rehabilitation. It also “tells the community we take this seriously,” he said after noting an increase in drunk driving cases in recent years.

Defense attorney Sean Hinchey, who unsuccessfully argued for a lessened sentence, said Farbstein took responsibility from the start.

She has no prior criminal history, he said.

“This is, from both sides, one of the worst cases I’ve been involved in,” Hinchey said.

Hinchey called to the stand a psychotherapist, who testified that Farbstein struggled with guilt and shame.

Her mother, Leilani Farbstein, testified that she was afraid to leave her home alone while the case worked through the court system. Like the therapist, Leilani Farbstein worried her daughter might attempt suicide. A former nursing student, Jessica Farbstein was expelled days after the fatal collision.

“It’s been so, so painful for Jessica,” Leilani Farbstein said, telling the court she grieved for the Hanson family as well.

She recalled being on the road, traveling out of state when she received word of the crash from a friend. She turned around immediately, she said.

“I was so afraid for her,” Leilani Farbstein said of her daughter.

Brooke Hanson’s mother also was apart from her daughter that night. Like Leilani Farbstein, she received a phone call.

“I didn’t get to comfort Brooke as she died,” Jessie Hanson said. “I couldn’t hold my little girl as she left this world.”

Michael Hanson, Brooke Hanson’s father, told the court he struggled with assigning a punishment for the death of his daughter. He viewed prison as a place for hardened criminals, for “bad guys.”

While unable to settle on an appropriate penalty, he said he wanted it to “sting.” Harsher punishments were needed to deter people from drinking and driving, he said.

Drunk driving had broken his family, Michael Hanson said.

“We don’t drink,” he said. “We do not drink in our family. And yet alcohol destroyed my family. It’s unfathomable.”

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