Woman pleads guilty in fatal southeast Nebraska collision between car, horse-drawn buggy


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PAWNEE CITY, Nebraska — A woman whose car collided with a horse-drawn buggy carrying two Amish people to church in southeast Nebraska has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor vehicular homicide.

Online court records show that on Monday in Pawnee County District Court, Vivian Cockrell, of Pawnee City, also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor misuse of a learner's permit. She'd been alone in her car, which prosecutors said violated one of the conditions on her learner's permit: that she must be accompanied by a licensed driver.

A sentencing date was not set, because Judge Daniel Bryan Jr. removed himself from the case, the Lincoln Journal Star said (http://bit.ly/1zmk7tL ). He said defense attorney Benjamin Beethe asked him to recuse himself because Cockrell thought the judge would be too harsh. Bryan declined to elaborate, other than saying, "I feel this case is no different than a guy or gal who is driving drunk."

Beethe didn't immediately return a call Tuesday from The Associated Press.

Prosecutors said Cockrell was driving the Cadillac on July 21, 2013, that struck the buggy carrying Fannie Yoder, 21, and her 17-year-old brother Reuben as they rode to church. Reuben Yoder died and Fannie Yoder was critically injured.

The crash occurred on Nebraska Highway 8/50 east of Pawnee City. Investigators said there was no evidence that Cockrell swerved or hit her brakes to avoid hitting the buggy or that sun glare or road conditions contributed to the accident.

"She should have perceived the vehicle in front of her," said Pawnee County Attorney Jennifer Stehlik-Ladman.

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