Sabrina Distura, accused in deaths of Nevada Union students, pleads guilty
Where to mail letters about Tyler and Justin
Deputy District Attorney Travis M. Colby
Merced County District Attorney’s Office
550 W. Main St.
Merced, CA, 95340
Franca Nielson wasn’t sure the woman accused of killing her son and his friend would plead guilty.
The mother of 17-year-old Tyler Nielson sat for three hours Wednesday in Merced County Superior Court, waiting to see whether Sabrina Distura would opt for trial.
She didn’t. Instead the 21-year-old Distura pleaded guilty to two counts of gross vehicular homicide while intoxicated in connection with the March wreck that killed two Nevada Union High School students. All other charges against her were dismissed, court records state.
“It was stressful,” Franca Nielson said. “If I heard the words ‘not guilty’ come out of her mouth, I knew I’d have to come back for trial. I thought my stomach was going to drop.”
Support Local Journalism
Franca Nielson said she now must only return to Merced County once more — for Distura’s sentencing.
Distura, who remained jailed Thursday, is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 13, reports state. Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby said in an email she faces a maximum of 12 years in prison. Law requires that she serve at least six years behind bars. There is no plea agreement.
Kim Browning — mother of 16-year-old Justin Gardner, the second Nevada Union High School student who died in the wreck — also wanted to avoid trial.
“We were hoping all along she would plead guilty or no contest,” Browning said. “It was traumatic enough.”
Authorities claim Distura on March 25 crossed the Interstate 5 median in Merced County and collided with a vehicle driven by Tyler Nielson. He died at the scene. Gardner died later that day. A third student, Dawson Fay, suffered a broken hip.
A large crowd attended a memorial service about two weeks later for the two students.
“There were hundreds of people in the pouring rain,” Franca Nielson said. “The choices she made impacted a whole community.”
Browning encouraged people to send letters to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office about Nielson and Gardner. She said the judge in the case would read those letters before sentencing.
Browning said she wants people to show how Distura affected not only the victims’ friends and family, but also the community.
“It had a huge impact,” she said. “They’re tremendously missed.
“We need to show these boys mattered,” Browning added. “We’re here to show that.”
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Connect with needs and opportunities from
Get immediate access to organizations and people in our area that need your help or can provide help during the Coronavirus crisis.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.