Former corrections officer gets 16 years for drunken driving crash that killed 4 in South Dakota

A memorial for the Red Elk and Pretends Eagle family at the site of the crash.  Courtesy of Valene Pretends Eagle
A memorial for the Red Elk and Pretends Eagle family at the site of the crash. Courtesy of Valene Pretends EagleCourtesy of Valene Pretends Eagle

RAPID CITY, S.D. — After emotional testimony from the defendant's and victims' families Friday, Feb. 1, a Porcupine man was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his 2017 drunken driving crash that killed four members of a Wanblee family.

The sentence for Tyler Makes Him First went above the sentencing guidelines but that was necessary due to him being a corrections officer sworn to follow and protect the law and then driving with 3 1/2 times the legal limit of alcohol in his system and causing a "catastrophic" crash that took the lives of four innocent people, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Patterson.

While Makes Him First's sentence went above the guidelines, it was less than the maximum sentence of 24 years. Jeffrey Viken, a judge at the Rapid City federal courthouse, also ordered him to pay $9,300 in restitution.

The victims were Waylon Red Elk Sr., 42; his wife, Jaylene Pretends Eagle, 34; their son, Waylon Red Elk Jr., 1; and a nearly full-term child Pretends Eagle was carrying in her womb. The crash left Pretends Eagle's five other children, now between 5 and 15 years old, without a mother.

"Sixteen years, but what is that? He'll be back. He'll be breathing. But I'll never have my daughter back or the grandbabies," Phyllis Wilcox, Jaylene's mother, said of Makes Him First's punishment after the sentencing.

Wilcox said she was sad she didn't get to say goodbye to her daughter, who she described as having a great sense of humor and someone who enjoyed trying new things. "We just miss her so much," she said.

Makes Him First pleaded guilty September 2018 to three involuntary manslaughter charges for killing Pretends Eagle, Red Elk and their child. In return, the prosecution dropped the charge against the unborn child, who was nearly due at 7 1/2 months' gestation.

Before the sentencing, six family members of the victims spoke on their behalf. Two mentioned how in addition to the loss of these four relatives, they lost another family member to a drunken driver in 2009.

Jaylene's surviving children are "still struggling" and are in counseling, Julia Wilcox, Jaylene's grandmother, said after giving framed photographs of Jaylene and Waylon Jr. to Viken.

Jennifer Albertson, Makes Him First's defense lawyer, asked for a sentence less than 16 years. She said her client immediately accepted responsibility about his "terrible choice" to drink and drive, but she doesn't think long sentences help deter similar actions. Earlier in the hearing, Viken mentioned that Makes Him First has no criminal record.

Tyler Makes Him First said he was devastated when he learned that he killed four people and questioned why he survived. He said it was especially difficult to learn he killed young children since he is a father. "Because of me" their family members won't be able to see their loved ones again, he said.

The fatal crash occurred when Makes Him First was driving a pickup truck northbound on BIA 27 near Porcupine on Nov. 4, 2017, according to a statement of facts document signed by Makes Him First.

Makes Him First was "heavily intoxicated" after drinking and crossed into the southbound lane near the Evergreen housing community, striking the sedan driven by Red Elk, the document says.

"The impact was passenger headlight to passenger headlight and was catastrophic," the document says.

After the crash, the document says, law enforcement found that Makes Him First smelled like alcohol and had slurred speech and red, bloodshot eyes. His blood alcohol content was .284 percent, more than three times the drunken driving threshold of .08 percent.

Porcupine is about 80 miles south of Wall.