Tyler Creighton, left, and his attorney David Bate in courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center Tuesday. Creighton was allegedly texting while driving when he struck and killed Robin Gardner, 63, of LaGrange in Alton on Nov. 24, 2017. Credit: Gabor Degre

The man charged with causing a crash last year that killed his brother’s mother-in-law was sentenced Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor to 20 years in prison with all but seven years suspended and the loss of his driver’s license for life.

Tyler Creighton, 25, of Medford was sentenced after pleading guilty to manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants and violation of condition of release in connection with the Nov. 24 crash that killed Robin Gardner, 63, of LaGrange. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Creighton is the half-brother of Gardner’s son-in-law, Alex Creighton.

Tyler Creighton was returning from a methadone clinic in Bangor when the crash took place at about 7:37 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving on Route 16, when Creighton’s car crossed the centerline and struck Gardner’s vehicle, according to Marianne Lynch, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County. The evidence showed that Gardner swerved trying to avoid being struck, she said.

Creighton admitted to police at the scene that he was texting at the time of the crash. A blood test from Creighton taken shortly after the crash showed that Creighton had a drug cocktail in his system that included an antidepressant, marijuana, methadone and codeine, Lynch told the judge.

Creighton said he battled with drug addiction for five years before the crash. He apologized for his actions.

“I just want the Gardner family to know that I’m truly sorry,” he said.

Gardner’s family members and friends were in court Tuesday. They prepared two videos of family photos, one featuring Gardner and the other, featuring her only son, Alexander Gardner, 35, of LaGrange.

He was found dead of an apparent suicide in his pickup truck a week after his mother’s death, on the same road where she was killed, family members said Tuesday. His truck struck a tree less than a mile from where Creighton’s vehicle collided with his mother’s car.

Gardner’s husband, Gary Gardner, told Superior Court Justice Ann Murray that he and his wife would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year. He said that his wife’s death “so broke his [son’s] heart that he had to be with his mama.”

Robin Gardner was heading to Old Town to open the cafe at the storefront church, New Life, her daughter, the Rev. Brooke Gardner, had founded, when she was killed. The minister said it took five people to replace the work her mother did for the congregation.

Brooke Gardner said that her mother offered to go open the cafe, which an outreach ministry of the church to young people in the Old Town area, in her place the morning of Nov. 24.

“Little did she know she was going to meet Jesus that day,” the minister told Murray. “If I had gone in to the cafe that day, it would have been me that Tyler hit.”

The minister urged the judge to sentence Creighton as if he had taken the life of her own mother and brother.

Creighton’s family also were in court Tuesday but did not address the judge. They submitted letters to Murray for her consideration in determining what sentence to impose.

In addition to prison time, Murray sentenced Creighton to four years of probation. Conditions include no drug or alcohol use, treatment for addiction and no contact with the victim’s family. Murray ordered him to pay $2,800 in fines and more than $2,900 toward Gardner’s funeral expenses.

In his plea agreement with the prosecution, a charge of driving to endanger was dismissed.

At the time of the crash, he was on bail for an Oct. 23 operating under the influence of intoxicant charge in Piscataquis County, his second that year. Creighton pleaded guilty to that charge Tuesday in addition to the charges related to the fatal crash. He was convicted of operating under the influence of intoxicants in March 2017.

Creighton has been held at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest on the day of the crash after being unable to post $10,000 cash bail. That time will be applied to his seven-year sentence.

The Gardner family has hired an attorney to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against Creighton, according to Lynch.

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