COEUR d'ALENE - The families of the Coeur d'Alene teenagers who died in a single car accident near Twin Falls two years ago have settled a civil suit with the man who chased them prior to the wreck.
The suit, filed by the families of Ryan Reinhardt, Devon Austin and the accident's lone survivor, Jessica Duran, was settled Sept. 12 in Twin Falls County 5th District court for $50,000.
The amount was the maximum amount available under 21-year-old plaintiff Kade Laughlin's insurance plan, and will be split between the three parties, according to Paula Austin, Devon Austin's mother.
"The only way we were going to be able to hold (Laughlin) accountable was civilly," said Paula Austin. "The criminal justice system failed."
In January, Laughlin pleaded guilty to reckless driving stemming from the Sept. 12, 2010, accident and was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with all but 20 days suspended.
He had been arrested hours after the 1 a.m. accident after Duran, 19, had identified him as having chased the three Coeur d'Alene teenagers and College of Southern Idaho students as they had tried to leave a party at Laughlin's house.
According to deputy reports, Laughlin had admitted he and some of his friends got in his pickup and chased Duran, Austin, 19, and Reinhardt, 18, after one of the men was accused of stealing something from Laughlin's home. Reinhardt and Austin died at the scene of the accident.
Attorney Bruce Owens, representing the Austins, said they won't pursue civil claims against Ryan Balles, Colt Robinson and Naccona Robinson, who were accused of riding in the truck with Laughlin during the chase.
The three are uninsured, and could file bankruptcy to avoid any civil judgment, he said.
"I don't see that happening," said Laura Wilson, Ryan Reinhardt's mother, on more litigation. "I really feel we have pursued this in every way."
She said the civil suits were filed not for financial gain, but to hold accountable the parties they felt played a part in the boys' deaths. Pursuing the uninsured passengers in litigation would likely prove to be a waste of time and money, the families said.
"I guess in a way I feel like I failed. The ones who should have been held accountable were not," Wilson said. "I know my son has fault in this as well ... But I truly believe he was not the only one who has fault in this thing."
Laughlin's attorney, Kent Hawkins, said Wednesday he could not comment on the settlement. Laughlin has declined to talk to The Press during the two-year process.
The victims' families in Coeur d'Alene have expressed their frustration with the investigation and court proceedings since the accident. They said communication with authorities during the investigation was at times sparse, and that they thought a more severe criminal charge against Laughlin was warranted. They said not being from Twin Falls hindered their case, when it shouldn't have. Being unable to pursue the other suspects civilly adds to that frustration, they said.
"Every turn, it's been frustrating," Paula Austin said. "All Laura and I were trying to do - both families - was hold those kids accountable."
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs has told The Press that his office did all it could do under the circumstances to charge Laughlin with the proper crime, and that evidence showed Laughlin ended the chase before the accident occurred. He also denied any favoritism due to residency. He did say after the January sentencing that he was disappointed the Coeur d'Alene mothers were not allowed to read impact statements.
Magistrate Judge Nicole Cannon, who resigned her post in June after being arrested for aggravated driving under the influence, ruled the mothers couldn't make statements because they weren't direct victims, which upset the Coeur d'Alene families.
At the time of the accident, Reinhardt, who was driving, reached a speed close to 100 mph before veering off the road, according to accident reports. Toxicology reports show Reinhardt's and Austin's blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit of .08 for legal-aged drinkers.
Using Duran's identification, deputies arrested Laughlin later that morning and for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was placed on supervised probation for the infraction, which he violated with alcohol use on two occasions, according to court records, and was sentenced to around a week in jail.
The civil settlement between the parties came two years to the day after the accident.