TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Garrett Sands was just shy of his 18th birthday when he was shot and killed at a house party by a 19-year-old Nathan Derickson.
Garrett’s mother, Jayna Sullivan, has had her fair share of heartache this past year.
First, she lost her son, then there was the process of seeking justice in his death, then tragically, she also lost her son-in-law in a motorcycle accident in June this year.
From an outsiders’ perspective, Jayna Sullivan seemed to learn the hardest lessons all at once.
It’s given her a new outlook on life.
“We know that it could be gone tomorrow … We now know that for sure.”
In the face of unimaginable tragedy, losing her son to reckless homicide, Jayna had to put on a brave face and attend the court proceedings of Nathan Derickson.
He was the young man to pull the trigger, ending Garrett’s life at a house party in March 2018.
“There’s a different kind of anxiety and stress that came along with it being an active court case. Court days were very stressful to me … We fought very hard for some kind of justice for the loss of my son’s life.”
Derickson was charged with a level five felony maintaining that the shooting death was unintentional. Jayna learned a lot about level fives, which range from one to six years prison time. Still, she pushed for a just sentence.
You cannot forget the fact that a person lost their life and in the state of Indiana, a level five felony is equivalent to somebody selling meth and look how prevalent meth is in this state … I believe it’s fallen through the cracks.”Jayna Sullivan
Close to 13 months after Garrett was killed, Derickson was sentenced to four years in prison, six years probation. Ten years was the maximum sentence he could serve under a plea agreement.
Ultimately, with time already served, Derickson could only spend around two years behind bars.
When our crew talked with Jayna after the April sentencing, she said she was just happy there was prison time.
“We were able to shut that door in a life where we have several doors open, still.”
One open door that Jayna hoped to pursue the summer after sentencing was raising her concerns and raising her voice at the state level. She planned to meet with lawmakers to change the consequences of the kind of reckless homicide she experienced.
“At least be a voice for change for that to be say a level 4 felony versus a level 5 felony.”
But a different door opened for her family, just six weeks from the sentencing, a whole new heartache.
Jayna’s daughter was in a motorcycle accident with her husband, 25-year-old Danny Joe Smith Jr., when he crashed and ultimately died.
By that time, it was almost like, we didn’t know what to say.”Jayna Sullivan
Jayna’s daughter was fortunate to walk away from the accident.
She’ll have permanent injury to her hand and a different injury to her heart because this is her husband and he’s been a part of her life for ten years.”Jayna Sullivan
A new grief instantly halted Jayna’s efforts at the state level.
“It was just so unreal that it could happen again.”
Jayna says she’s a woman of strong faith and she knows she will see her loved ones again just in a different capacity. Meanwhile on Earth, she’s still picking up the pieces and plans to pick up where she left off.
“We are victims as much as my son was … That’s how change is made by people speaking up.”
Jayna’s hopes during her work at the statehouse that lawmakers consider reckless homicide with a deadly weapon as a level 4 versus a level 5 felony.
Level 4 felonies range from 2 to 12 years in prison, with an advisory sentence of 6 years. Level 5 felonies range from one to six years in prison with an advisory sentence of 3 years.
Through all of this, she persisted in her courageous acts of kindness to help shape her community into a better place.
And she says she will host a second year for the prom dress giveaway come next prom season.