Hastings man receives 120 day sentence for vehicular death of Wesley Skinner of Scottville.

January 4, 2017
Tiffany Skinner, right, holds a picture of her family, while Coughlin, second from left, listens.

Tiffany Skinner, right, holds a picture of her family, while Coughlin, second from left, listens.

Hastings man receives 120 day sentence for vehicular death of Wesley Skinner of Scottville.

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By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

MANISTEE — Every day, since September 4, Tiffany Christmas Skinner has broke down and cried, mourning the loss of her fiancé, the love of her life, the father of her young boys. In a split second, the actions of a distracted driver killed 25-year-old Wesley Skinner of Scottville at an intersection in northeastern Manistee County.

Exactly four months since that day, Ryan James Coughlin, 21, of Hastings, was sentenced in 85th District Court. Beginning today, Coughlin will serve 120 days in jail and two years probation for the charge of moving violation causing death, an offense that is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

On Sept. 4, Wesley and Tiffany, along with their friends Michael Saya and Isaac Johnson, left Scottville and were going to Copemish to play paintball.

“We started that day out like every other day,” Tiffany said to the court Wednesday. She said she and Wesley, along with their two boys, Easton, 4, and Beau, 2, got up and ate breakfast together. They then watched some cartoons. The couple was heading north with some friend’s, to celebrate Wesley’s brother’s graduation from military bootcamp.

judge_thomas_brunner_manistee_85Easton didn’t want his daddy to go, Tiffany said. “He cried, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay with me,’” Tiffany said, reading a victim’s impact statement. “Had I known that was the last time the boys would ever see their daddy, we wouldn’t have gone.”

The small district courtroom was filled with family members and friends of both Wesley Skinner and Ryan Coughlin. Almost all those in attendance, including the defendant, were in tears as Tiffany read her statement.

Tiffany held a picture of her, Wesley, and the boys. “I have wanted and waited months and weeks to stand before you with this picture to tell you the type of person Wesley was. There are not enough words nor enough time to give justice in one day of how perfect Wesley was. He gave me the greatest two gifts any person could ask for, our two boys.

“We were the perfect little family… he loved these boys more than life itself.”

Tiffany said Wesley worked two jobs, including evenings. He would call every night before the boys went to bed so he could tell them goodnight and that he loved them.

“We were the perfect little family,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany was 14 when she started dating 15-year-old Wesley. They were high school sweethearts, both attending Mason County Central High School. Wesley graduated with the class of 2009.

“We were together for 10 years. Our wedding was going to be in 20 days,” she said. “He walked on water for us.”

Following the crash, Tiffany changed her last name to Skinner.

On that Sunday about noon, Tiffany was driving the couple’s minivan. They were traveling on 13 Mile Road, a road with rolling hills. They were nearing the intersection with Marilla Road.

Coughlin was driving a pickup truck south on Marilla Road with two other people in the vehicle. They were going fishing. He described to the court that he would come up to Manistee County to get away and relax. He later told the police that he saw the stop sign approaching but then looked away from the road at his phone’s GPS app.

“We were coming up to the intersection,” Tiffany said. “There were huge hills on both sides of the road. I looked both ways. I remember looking. I looked left and I looked right and when I looked back I saw something out of the corner of my left eye. Then it was too late. I remember hearing the impact and then it all went silent. I can’t remember how many times we rolled or when it stoped. It felt like it was never going to stop. I just remember Mikey saying ‘Wesley isn’t in the van. Oh God, Wesley isn’t in the van.’”

Skinner, who was riding in the back of the minivan, was not wearing a seatbelt.

After prying her door open, Tiffany frantically searched for her fiancé. Mike met her in the back of the van and she could see by the look in his eyes that it wasn’t good, she said. That’s when she saw Wesley. “The twisted, dirty, bloody body of my 25-year-old fiancé, the father of my kids, the love of my life, was lying there in the dirt. He had no pulse.”

Tiffany screamed and prayed. “It wasn’t real,” she said. “I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Every single day since that crash I have balled my eyes out. In 20 days we were supposed to be married.”

Since that day, almost on a daily basis, she has to explain to her 4-year-old and 2-year-old where their daddy is.

“Some days are good but most days I have to answer these questions: ‘Why did that mean guy kill my daddy?’ ‘Why did God take my daddy away from me?’ ‘Mommy, that mean guy isn’t going after me is he?’”

She said on Christmas morning she saw Easton looking around. She asked him what he was looking for. “‘Why didn’t Santa bring Daddy home? That’s all I asked for.’ How do you answer those questions?”

Coughlin then addressed the court.

Skinner’s mother, Katrina Skinner, also addressed the court.

“I clearly can replay the phone call I received from my ex mother-in-law, Jean Skinner, in my head: ‘Katrina, Wes has been in a car accident. Katrina, Wesley didn’t make it. He’s dead. Katrina, Wesley’s dead.’ At that time I dropped the phone. I was speechless. I started crying. There was no way Wesley was dead. He is tough.”

Skinner, who is a Scottville police officer, said she would meet up with her son on the evenings she worked. He would be getting out of work at 2 a.m. and she would be starting her shift. They would meet at the Wesco gas station. “I still go to the Wesco station at 2 a.m. every night when I am working,” she said.

“I would like to say sorry to the family,” he said, tears coming from his eyes. “Apologies aren’t going to fix anything. I can’t bring your son back. It’s torn me up… I wish I could meet him. I wish I could go fishing with him. I wish I could be friends with him… I sincerely apologize to the family. There is nothing I can do or nothing I can say to fix anything. The guilt I feel of taking their son over an accident I did not mean to commit at all. It’s a terrible thing.”

In December, Coughlin pleaded no contest to the charge and accepted a plea agreement with the Manistee County Prosecutor’s Office. In exchange for the plea, Coughlin would be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

On Wednesday, Judge Thomas Brunner rejected the plea and increased the jail time to 120 days in jail.

Coughlin’s attorney, Ellie Johnson of Grand Rapids asked the judge why he changed the sentencing agreement.

“I didn’t find 30 days to be appropriate,” the judge responded.

Johnson then asked to confer with Coughlin about the change in sentencing. After a 10 minute recess, they returned and accepted the change. If he did not accept the change, the case would have gone to trial.

Johnson also asked that Coughlin be allowed to serve his jail time, with work release, from the Barry County Jail. Judge Brunner countered that he will allow work release, but that Coughlin must serve his first 30 days in the Manistee County Jail. After that time, his probation officer, along with approval from the Barry County Sheriff’s Office, would decide if he can be transferred downstate.

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