Driver in deadly crash sentenced to year in jail

December 5, 2022


Driver in deadly crash sentenced to year in jail

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

HART — The driver in a crash that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old Hart man last April was sentenced to one year in jail in Oceana County’s 51st Circuit Court Monday, Dec. 5.

Ryan Joshua Allen pleaded guilty to a felony of reckless driving causing death, Sept. 12. Hayden Zaverl died in the single-vehicle crash shortly after 12:30 a.m. on West Fish Road near South 44th Avenue in Benona Township. Zaverl was among four passengers in a 2013 Ford F-150 pickup truck that went off the road “and hit a series of trees,” said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast. Zaverl was a backseat passenger on the driver’s side. Allen and the other passengers were injured. Allen was airlifted from the scene by Aeromed and transported to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

Zaverl’s mother, Gina Zaverl, spoke in the courtroom packed with family members, friends and supporters for both Zaverl and Allen. She displayed a photo of her five children, including Hayden.

“He had the biggest heart in the whole world,” she said. “To me, it’s devastating. I miss him giving me hugs. This has been very hard on us. After this year, they will get him back,” said the grieving mother. “I have to go to the cemetery to see my son, and that will be for the rest of my life.”

“A chunk of my client was taken away that night,” said Allen’s attorney, Terry Nolan. “This family has been racked with grief. His brother committed suicide two years ago. They offer the greatest condolence that they can. Nolan said he’s been practicing law for 40 years, and “I can tell when families are legitimately in sorrow for the other family.

“It’s the graciousness of the Zaverl family that my client is not going to prison. The guidelines call for a prison term. It takes a lot of graciousness and forgiveness on their part.”

Allen’s arm was so severely injured in the crash, it had to be “rebuilt,” said Nolan. “He’ll carry the damage to his arm for the rest of his life.”  

“There has not been a day that’s gone by that I have not thought about the accident,” said Allen, who thanked the prosecutor and the Zaverl family for not sending him to prison. 

“When you look at sentencing for a case like this, there is nothing a sentence can do to bring back the young man who was lost,” said Judge Susan K. Sniegowski. Seeking closure in a tragic case like this “is a hollow conversation. Mr. Allen will have to live the rest of his life with what he’s done. It will never go away. For Hayden’s family, the pain will never go away.”

The judge set probation for a minimum of three years. The defense requested work release, but the judge did not allow it.

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