Almost 680 days after the death of Kelsey Nalepa, 8, her family on Wednesday finally got some sense of closure, surrounded by friends and relatives in a courtroom packed with people wearing shirts of purple, her favorite color.
“She truly had no enemies,” said Nicole Nalepa, Kelsey’s mother. “I have no doubt she was going to go on to make a huge impact in this world. Her father said it best at her funeral, she had a light that shined brighter than most. And it was extinguished far too early.”
Erika Nicole Diebel, 43, of League City, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years deferred adjudication as part of a plea agreement struck after two trials ended in deadlock.
“I’m very sorry to the Nalepa family, their friends and their support group,” Diebel said through tears. “I am so sorry for my actions, I wish that night would have never happened.”
Diebel, who had been charged with intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle and manslaughter in connection with Kelsey Nalepa’s death in April 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in the agreement with prosecutors.
The plea agreement came with a bevy of conditions, including a requirement that Diebel visit Kelsey Nalepa’s grave on April 6, the date of the crash, each year for the next 10 years.
The agreement required Diebel to testify Wednesday that she had been drinking alcohol and driving on the night of the deadly crash. The plea deal also requires her to complete substance abuse rehabilitation programs.
The crash occurred as Diebel was driving a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee east in the 2600 block of West Main Street, police said.
Eastbound traffic was stopped in that block, and a 2009 Ford Expedition was stopped directly in front of Diebel’s vehicle, police said. Diebel drove her Jeep into the back of the Expedition, seriously injuring Nalepa, police said.
Nalepa was flown to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston for treatment. She was pronounced dead April 8, 2017.
Three Nalepa family members after the plea agreement gave victim statements criticizing Diebel’s decision-making, describing Kelsey as a kind, intelligent and loving child.
“I’ll finish by saying that I wrote something about forgiveness,” Nicole Nalepa said. “I do thank you for taking responsibility today and I hope to find forgiveness, but I’m not there yet.”
Nicole Nalepa ended her statement by beseeching Diebel to get the help she needs and to keep her own children in mind.
“While you took her life, she just might be the one to save you,” Nicole Nalepa said.