Grand Haven-area resident Ileana Habsburg-Snyder tried to put herself in her late husband’s shoes when, in an unusual move, she met with defendant Hunter Isenhower following his sentencing on Monday for the construction-zone crash that killed David Snyder.
So, she asked Isenhower to use what he has learned and share it with others, to help people understand the impacts of distracted driving.
“He’s not a criminal,” Habsburg-Snyder said. “He’s a young man who made a mistake – although extremely costly.”
Isenhower, 24, was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail, two years of probation and 150 hours of community service after pleading no contest last month to a misdemeanor charge of a moving violation causing death. He was also ordered to pay $3,000 in fines and a restitution amount yet to be determined.
The Kentwood man was also instructed to write a minimum five-page essay about the impacts of distracted driving and to share it with his church youth group.
Monday’s hearing was held in front of Ottawa County District Judge Craig Bunce in Grand Haven.
Both Isenhower and Habsburg-Snyder were critically injured in the May 18 crash that killed 62-year-old David Snyder. Their injuries were severe enough that Isenhower testified he didn’t have a lot of recollection as to what happened that day.
Habsburg-Snyder said she also had no knowledge of what happened. It was four months after the incident that she felt well enough to start seeking information to fill in the blanks.
According to police reports, the Snyders were stopped in traffic on eastbound I-96 shortly before 1 p.m. that Saturday when they were struck by Isenhower’s Mercedes-Benz.
Habsburg-Snyder said that she and her husband were on their way to their grandson’s fifth birthday party in Grandville.
“His present was on the back seat,” she said.
The Snyder’s Lexus was pushed into a Ford Escape, which was pushed into two other cars. The other drivers were not injured.
Police said that speed was a factor in the crash; drugs and alcohol were not.
Defense attorney Bob Zitta said that some people’s claims that the defendant was distracted by his cellphone were not supported in the police investigation.
“If you weren’t on your phone, you were” clearly driving distracted, the judge said to Isenhower.
Both Habsburg-Snyder and her daughter, Alexandra Tillard, gave victim impact statements that characterized David as a loving man who had an ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds.
“He was empathic and had a gift for understanding why people felt the way they did,” his wife said. She noted that her husband was an expert problem solver, gifted at resolving conflict, and a loving counselor and advisor.
Tillard, who has two siblings, said that her father was a storyteller and a great cook.
“My dad was an amazing grandpa,” she said. “He built forts out of cardboard boxes for my kids and my nephew every winter.”
Habsburg-Snyder said that she and her husband met as students at Western Michigan University. They worked together as teaching assistants, teaching principles of psychology to undergraduate students. They eventually worked in the same business and on some of the same projects. They headed consulting projects and then their own consulting business.
Late in their marriage, they gave up consulting and started a winery business.
“I loved working alongside David because he was so incredibly smart, got along with everyone, was even-tempered and he loved working with me,” Habsburg-Snyder said. “We were an ambitious team and a wonderful complement to each other.”
Habsburg-Snyder said that losing her husband “is the greatest loss I can imagine.” She said he was such an important part of the business that she wasn’t sure she could continue it without him.
Due to injuries, she also lost a contract job she held but could not complete.
“I have lots of expenses and frustrations related to the accident,” she said. “I fear for my future and retirement years.”
Habsburg-Snyder said she struggled for months with the issue of Isenhower’s sentencing.
“I have no desire to ruin Hunter’s life or seek revenge,” she said.
She told the judge that her husband would want Isenhower to not bury the experience as a bad memory, but to share his story to make a difference in the community.
Isenhower’s attorney described his client as a “good young man” with no criminal history. At the time of the crash, Isenhower was working and going to school, Zitta said.
“He is somebody who is grounded in work and education,” the attorney said. “He has good family support.”
Isenhower made a short statement, acknowledging that he does not have much memory of what happened the day of the crash.
“I would very much like to express my condolences to the family,” he said.
During their private conversation after the sentencing, Habsburg-Snyder said he apologized again.
“He took my hand and he looked me in the eye,” she said. “He told me he was sorry. It’s pretty hard to fake that.”
Habsburg-Snyder said that she wished that Isenhower was given more community service time directly related to sharing his story.
“I told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to share,’” she said. “Don’t sugar coat it. Tell the truth. People will believe you if you tell the truth.”