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Teen pleads to lesser charge in fatal crash

A Rogue River teen will spend 100 days in jail for causing a drunken car crash that killed the 6-year-old son of a family friend.

Nichole Lynn Whalen, 18, of the 10000 block of East Evans Creek Road, pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court Friday to criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence of intoxicants. Whalen crashed her car into a tree June 21, killing Jonathon Dakota Cox of White City, after she had consumed several beers and smoked marijuana.

Circuit Court Judge Bill Purdy imposed Whalen's jail sentence and three years of probation following the attorneys' recommendation, which placed her under the court's jurisdiction as an adult. Whalen initially was charged with second-degree manslaughter, which was dismissed Friday. Purdy ruled that treatment and probation would be more effective in the case than prison time.

I feel like she's getting away with it, Jonathon's mother, 38-year-old Marie Paudois, of White City, told Purdy as she clutched a floppy-eared stuffed rabbit that belonged to her son.

The crash ruined the relationship between the families of Jonathon and Whalen, who had spent the day together celebrating the summer solstice, attorneys said.

— This took me and the rest of my family by total shock, said Jonathon's father, 42-year-old Steve Cox of Medford.

A group of six or seven teens and children stayed at Whalen's parents' home while the adults went out for the evening, said Beth Heckert, chief deputy district attorney for Jackson County.

Some of the kids consumed beer that had been left at the house, she said.

A mother herself, Whalen left her son ' then a year old ' at the house with the other teens while she drove Jonathon and his older brother, Chris-topher, to a nearby convenience store to buy candy, Heckert said. Instead of returning home, Whalen drove past her house, veered onto Sykes Creek Road and continued for several more miles, Heckert said. Whalen lost control of her 1985 Honda Accord on the gravel road, careened into a ravine and crashed into a tree.

Residents living near the 3200 block of Sykes Creek Road reported the 9 p.m. crash and directed an ambulance to the scene. Jonathon was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center but died soon after arriving there, officials said. Whalen and Christopher Cox ' then 15 ' were treated and released at Three Rivers Community Hospital in Grants Pass.

Whalen's inexperience behind the wheel played a large role in the crash, Heckert said. The teen did not have a driver's license and had only driven the Accord, which had a manual transmission, twice before.

Following her release from jail, Whalen will not be allowed to hold a driver's license for eight years.

Hopefully Nichole will learn something dramatic out of this event and turn her life around, Steve Cox told the court.

Six months pregnant, Whalen may be released from jail early either on account of overcrowding or if she went into labor, Heckert said. Whalen spent no time in jail since she was indicted on the charges in February.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemonat 776-4487, or e-mail .