Fleeing driver whose wreck killed TV reporter’s mother gets 22-year sentence

08/20/2014 10:00 AM

08/20/2014 5:08 PM

For years as a local television reporter, Sandra Olivas told other people’s stories with eloquence and compassion.

On Wednesday, in a Wyandotte County courtroom, it was time for Olivas to tell her story — and that of the woman she called her best friend.

Her 62-year-old mother, Graciela Olivas, was killed in February when a driver fleeing from Kansas City, Kan., police sped through a red light and plowed into the side of Graciela Olivas’ car.

“It was not the way my mom’s beautiful story was supposed to end,” Sandra Olivas testified before the other driver was sentenced. “She was happy and healthy one day and gone the next.”

Following terms of a plea agreement approved by the Olivas family, a judge sentenced Christopher Bradley Stewart to 22 years and five months in prison.

Police attempted to pull over Stewart, 29, on Feb. 17 because he was wanted on a warrant for missing his sentencing in a drug case. He sped away, but only made it a few blocks before the collision.

He rammed the first new car that Graciela Olivas had ever owned, her daughter said. It was a Mother’s Day gift from two of her four children.

One of her sons, Juan Olivas, told Stewart it was time to stop running, and encouraged him to ask God for forgiveness.

“They have Bibles in prison,” Juan Olivas said. “Honor our mother by picking one up and reading it.”

Graciela and her husband, Candelario Olivas, emigrated from Mexico more than 40 years ago because they wanted to give their children a better life, Sandra Olivas said. They instilled in their children a strong work ethic and religious faith.

“They were caring, decent people who respected the law,” Sandra Olivas said.

She last talked to her mother about 90 minutes before the crash. The conversation ended with a dropped cellphone signal, and Olivas said she is haunted by the fact that she didn’t try to call back. At the time she just figured she would talk to her again the next day.

Prosecutors charged Stewart with first-degree murder. But Sandra Olivas said the family agreed to his pleading to second-degree murder to spare the grandchildren from details of the crash coming out in a trial. She said the family also wanted to show Stewart mercy by not pushing for the more serious crime.

She used her testimony to also ask police and people who may think to run from them to consider the consequences of what can happen.

“Think twice about this cat and mouse game,” she said.

Wyandotte County District Judge Robert Burns told Stewart that he would have likely received probation in the drug case and been able to get treatment.

“Tragically, the decisions you made led you here today,” Burns said. “None of this needed to happen.”

He sentenced Stewart under the terms of the plea agreement to maximum consecutive sentences of 226 months for murder, seven months for eluding police, and 36 months for the drug possession case.

Before he was sentenced, Stewart apologized to the Olivas family and said he couldn’t imagine losing his mother.

“I never meant to cause you so much pain,” he said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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