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Bend woman pleads no contest in 2022 crash that killed 3 members of Warm Springs family, 25-year sentence recommended

Audrey Cooper McHugh appeared on video from Jefferson County Jail for hearing last fall before Circuit Judge Daina Vitolins
Jefferson County Circuit Court
Audrey Cooper McHugh appeared on video from Jefferson County Jail for hearing last fall before Circuit Judge Daina Vitolins

Audrey McHugh says gluten in supposedly gluten-free sandwich caused severe cramps, dizziness

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) – A Bend woman has pleaded no contest to three counts of manslaughter and DUII-alcohol in a November 2022 head-on crash on Highway 26 that killed three members of a Warm Springs family. Prosecutors are recommending a 25-year prison term at sentencing set for Friday.

Audrey Cooper McHugh, 30, agreed last year to plead guilty to lesser charges, but prosecutors had not accepted the deal.

In a plea petition filed Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court, McHugh pleaded no contest to four of the seven charges against her, which also included three counts of second-degree manslaughter. She originally pleaded no contest to all seven counts in March of 2023.

McHugh acknowledged in the petition that a conviction on the charges she pleaded no contest to could bring up to 61 years in prison and a $1.13 million fine.

But in exchange for the no-contest plea, prosecutors have agreed to recommend that the judge impose a 25-year sentence. “The defense is free to argue for any lawful sentence,” the petition states, and the court has agreed to follow those parameters.

In a no-contest plea, a criminal defendant does not admit guilt, only that the evidence is strong enough to bring a conviction. McHugh is scheduled for sentencing at 2:30 p.m. Friday before Circuit Judge Annette Hillman.

McHugh said in an accompanying court filing that she was experiencing severe digestive distress at the time from gluten in a supposedly gluten-free sandwich when she passed a slow-moving vehicle at over 80 mph to get to an upcoming gas station's restroom.

State Police said McHugh was passing several vehicles in the fog the evening of Nov. 16, 2022 that evening when her pickup truck collided with an oncoming car driven by Saralee Spino-McCormick, 29, of Warm Springs, who was fatally injured, along with Jessica Johnson, 15, and her 13-year-old brother. The woman was the teens’ aunt.

In a statement of facts submitted Tuesday by defense attorney Erick Ward, McHugh said she was returning to Bend from Portland in her Toyota Tacoma pickup when she tried to pass a slow-moving vehicle just north of Dogwood Lane. Her vehicle’s event data recorder said she accelerated to 82 mph to quickly pass the truck but failed to see a Chevy sedan heading north in the opposite lane.

McHugh also “suffered catastrophic injuries,” including broken feet, legs and ribs, as well as a broken arm and spinal fractures, the document says.

During a post-crash interview, while heavily medicated, McHugh admitted having two glasses of champagne before she left Portland around 5:30 p.m. and to smoking marijuana the previous night as a sleep aid. Despite hard cider in the vehicle, one opened, she denied drinking while driving. A marijuana vape pen was found on the floorboard, but she said she thought she lost it and didn’t know it was there.

The memorandum said McHugh suffers from celiac disease, with severe reactions to even a trace of gluten, which “played an unfortunate but central role in the accident.”

She had bought and eaten “a supposedly gluten-free sandwich” from a Portland deli but “began experiencing severe, debilitating digestive distress” as she neared Madras, including “extreme, panic-inducing stomach cramps, dizziness and ‘brain fog.’”

“Her body felt like it was shutting down,” the memo states. “She urgently needed to find a restroom and there did not appear to be a workable alternative in the icy darkness around her,” unable to locate a pullout or wide enough shoulder to pull over “with a modicum of privacy.” Her GPS device indicated a service station “was a short distance ahead and she became focused on that goal.”

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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