The driver of the car that crashed into a gazebo at Camp Meeker, killing a 61-year-old Petaluma woman standing in line for a "zip-line" Redwoods canopy tour, was sentenced Wednesday after pleading no contest to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
Johnella Thomas, 74, of Marin City, was sentenced by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Peter Ottenweiller to three years of formal probation, her driver's license was revoked, and she was ordered to do 300 hours of community service work.
The charge against Thomas refers to the death of Nola Wolf, who was standing in line with her husband, Charles, and his sister, Mary -- whose birthday they were celebrating. Nola Wolf was killed instantly in the Feb. 24 crash.
“We’re pleased with the plea in this case and inspired by the grace exhibited by Mrs. Wolf’s surviving husband of 46 years," said Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who announced the sentence Wednesday. "Mr. Wolf’s loss and the defendant’s apology for this preventable death are tragic reminders of the dangers of driving beyond one’s capacity in senior years.
"Relinquishing the independence and mobility that driving provides is not easy," Ravitch added. "Yet, the potentially disastrous consequences, as in this case, cannot be undone.
"We hope this case will cause those who should no longer be driving to reflect and choose to find alternative transportation and assistance in the community to make this transition, for every one’s safety,” Ravitch said.
The charge resulted from a Feb. 24 vehicle collision on Bohemian Highway outside of Occidental.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. Thomas was driving her late model Mercedes to visit the Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds. As Thomas neared her destination, which is situated on the 35 mph winding, two-lane road, she mistakenly depressed the accelerator, thinking it was the brake pedal.
The Mercedes approached 65 mph before she ultimately lost control and left the roadway, plowing into a gazebo in the parking lot of the conference grounds.
Inside the gazebo, waiting to be transported to the Alliance Redwood's "zip-line" tree canopy tour was 61-year-old Wolf, her husband, Charles, and his sister, Mary, whose birthday they were celebrating with the visit to the center. As Thomas crashed into the gazebo, she struck Nola Wolf, killing her instantly.
In an emotional letter to the court, the decedent's husband noted that he had been married to his wife for 46 years and, at the time of the crash, he was holding his wife's hand.
He recounted that holding her hand was one of the many ways that, out of love, he protected her on a daily basis.
During the sentencing hearing,Thomas turned to Charles Wolf and apologized to him. He acknowledged the apology and advised the court that he did not wish to see Thomas sentenced to jail, but rather encouraged the court to order her to volunteer in the community advising other seniors of the dangers of continuing to drive in their later years.
Charles Wolf has created a scholarship and donated $100,000 in his wife’s honor to the college she attended, which bore a connection to their early years of courtship in Germany, where Wolf was stationed in the U.S. military.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell handled the case for the prosecution.