Julian Melissinas was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in state prison for a pot-fueled, high-speed car crash that killed his best friend, 19-year-old Clint Jacoby Reno.
Several members of Reno’s family reacted with dismay and tears when Jackson County Circuit Judge Jack Grate imposed half of the five-year sentence requested by the prosecutor’s office under a plea agreement. The law allows up to seven years.
Three of Reno’s relatives had spoken with emotion in the Independence courtroom before the sentencing was announced. The 2014 graduate of Blue Springs High School was remembered as a gentle soul and an appreciative son.
Christa Reno recalled that her son was born with a rare and dangerous condition and pulled through it.
“He fought to live, but in a few split seconds all his hard work of living was gone in a flash due to Julian’s careless, reckless driving,” she said.
Melissinas testified at his sentencing hearing and told Christa Reno from the stand that he prayed for her family.
“From the bottom to the top of my heart, I am truly, truly sorry,” he said.
Melissinas and Reno, both of Blue Springs, had been friends since they were 12 and were described as inseparable. They were out partying May 18, 2015. Melissinas was driving and Reno was a passenger, and at about 2:45 a.m. they were traveling north on Holke Road near Missouri 78 in eastern Independence.
An Independence police accident investigator calculated Melissinas was going about 115 mph when the vehicle went airborne, traveled through a field, struck a tree and landed in several feet of water. Reno, who would have turned 21 Saturday, was killed instantly when the force of impact crushed the passenger compartment.
Melissinas, who now is 21, sustained some injuries. He made his way, covered in blood, to a nearby house to seek help. Later, at a hospital, he tested positive for what police termed “an extreme amount of marijuana.”
Melissinas initially pleaded not guilty and was released on bond. In May, however, his bond was revoked after he again tested positive for marijuana in a drug screening. Shortly after that, Melissinas changed his plea to guilty. A trial had been scheduled for Sept. 26.
Christa Reno said Melissinas harassed her after the crash and was not remorseful.
Melissinas’ mother, Nicole, acknowledged her son made a tragic mistake but said he had received his high school equivalency degree and had a full-time job at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Claycomo.
“Some people need to be separated from society,” she said through tears. “I believe wholeheartedly that Julian is not one of those people.”
Assistant Prosecutor Traci Ann Stansell said Melissinas “has learned nothing from killing his best friend.”
Defense attorney Molly Hastings said her client’s future potential could be harmed by prison and asked for probation.
Grate said Reno’s life could never be measured by whatever punishment he imposed. He noted that Melissinas had no prior criminal record, and he sensed remorse on the young man’s part. But Grate said violating the terms of his bond by using pot showed “more profoundly stupid judgment.”