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Pregnant Mother and Son Killed

Updated on May 9, 2012
Caden with his mother, Erin Thompson
Caden with his mother, Erin Thompson
In court, Justine Winter
In court, Justine Winter
Justine White and Ryan Langford, happier times
Justine White and Ryan Langford, happier times

But has justice been served?

I’m going to kill myself! Justine threatened her boyfriend via text message, her Pontiac doing speeds near 85 on an icy back road of her Montana hometown. High school lovers, Ryan Langford and Justine Winter had been fighting, something close friends considered routine for the dramatic couple. Ryan had found something written in Justine’s diary that he didn’t like, he was threatening to break up with her- a scenario Justine could not handle. “If I won, I would have you and I wouldn’t crash my car…. I am a terrible person… I want to kill myself….” She texted him as she continued blazing home.

Coming from the opposite direction was proud mother, Erin Thompson; her son Caden parked in the passenger seat beside her. The two were headed home from a performance Caden was honorably selected to play in. With bright blue eyes and bright blonde hair, he was a picture of perfection any mother would be proud of.

What happens next will never exactly be known, weather Justine’s erratic driving lost her control, or her threats at suicide truly prophesized. Either way, her car plunged across the highway, smashing right into Erin, Caden, and the unborn baby blooming in Erin’s womb.

Richard Poeppel couldn’t believe his eyes, he saw the Subaru Forester directly in front of him brake and then boom; right over the Stillwater Bridge he so often traveled was an explosion. Poeppel didn’t think twice, plunging out of his own vehicle to assist the horrendous scene. He plunged towards Justine’s Pontiac first. "Her tongue had gone back into her esophagus. I just pulled that out and … then the white foam and the blood came out pretty profusely," he told ABC news. "I didn't think she was going to make it."

Around the same time Jason Thompson was home alone and getting worried, his family should be home by now. He put a call into the police station, that’s when he found out. Reluctant to break the news over the phone, the Officer on the other end stumbled out the truth: Thompson’s wife and children were dead, killed by a seemingly senseless accident. "It's like, I lost my heart, I lost my life, I lost my entire family." Thompson states.

After having tons of blood pumped into her body and being airlifted to a specialty hospital in Seattle, Justine Winter miraculously awoke. Only she no longer lived in the same world she once knew. Soon as Justine was well enough to return home she was wearing a court-ordered bracelet on her ankle, while sporting a neck-brace. The claims against her say that she purposely, according to her text messages, swerved into one-lane oncoming traffic, which knowingly would hurt someone else.

Despite the ill taste this whole image left the tight-knit community with, the Winter family decided to sue a grieving, and now completely alone, Jason Thompson; indicating that it was his wife who caused the accident. The anger this sparked fueled what was to come; regardless of backlash, the Winter family remains untrusting of the police investigation and believe their daughter is not in any way at fault.

Justine openly admitted in court that she has no memory of why she crashed. She only knows she never, no matter her state of mind, would have taken the lives of other people. Those that know her best advocate that she wouldn’t take her own life either. Either way, Justine was just recently facing charges of murder sporting a courtroom demeanor that was eerily uncaring.

And while Caden and Erin’s family begged for the apology the need for some closure, Justine couldn’t provide them with this. Her eyes cloudy and lost, she looked out at them from beside the Judge, telling them she was sorry for their lose but she couldn’t be personally sorry for the accident was not her fault. Like a dagger to the victim’s family heart, a collective sigh swept through the courtroom when once again an apology of any kind was denied.

Justine was sentenced to serve thirty years in prison, in 7 ½ years she will be twenty-five and eligible for parole.

Is this a just sentence or not?

Now if only declaring justice was so easy! What about Justine’s boyfriend, the one who was texting her back for thirty minutes aware that she was driving on slick back roads, threatening to kill herself and potentially others as well. Why didn’t he react, call the Police?

Perhaps damage done to Justine, or the patriarchal makeup of society that tells women they need a man, lead her to act in this manner. Court documents mention text messages sent from her phone to Ryan, that detail her turbulent home-life, her constantly bickering parents who only stay together because of her. As domestic violence research shows, those that are from rough homes will often create turbulent relationships of their own. Perhaps Justine is also a victim herself, in more ways than just the obvious. As always, any story involving ‘justice’ is multi-facetted and laden with opposing viewpoints and contradictions.

So hub-readers, what do you think is the ‘just’ sentence for Justine?


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    • Mandeeadair profile image

      Mandeeadair 5 years ago from California

      Justice is such a strong word and can mean so many different things depending on who is seeking it. I think that Justice will never really be served because lives were lost, but I do think she is responsible for their deaths. With the evidence provided she was driving under emotional distress and was probably not paying much attention to the road, and that is negligent and stupid. So, in that case even though the death of someone else may not have been intentional she is responsible and needs to serve her time. Great hub, so well written.

    • Becky Bruce profile image

      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Wendi, I agree. Of course she never meant to kill anyone and locking her up doesn't really do anyone justice. But it's so irritating in a way that she can't say sorry and grieve for the family and herself, a lot has been lost and she yet she seems so dis-attached to it all.

    • profile image

      Wendi 5 years ago

      I think the punishment is good because due to her erractic behavior she did kill 3 people. I don't believe it was intentional that she killed anyone but she should apologize for her actions and how it contributed to the death of Erin and her children. I'm sorry for your lose doesn't show she is taking responsibility for her actions that caused the accident.