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Running on Empty

Stephanie Huff was a runner. When she was in a place she didn't like, she'd run. When she was in trouble, she'd run. But earlier this month, during a sentencing hearing for two separate crimes, Stephanie finally realized that she could no longer outrun her problems -- or her past.

On November 3, 2003, Stephanie sped away from a police officer who'd discovered that she was a runaway with a stolen pickup truck. With a friend in the passenger seat next to her, fifteen-year-old Stephanie peeled away on that foggy morning in Loveland, not stopping until she lost control six blocks later and crashed into a duplex, wrecking the pickup, the home and a woman inside.

Shawna Rush had been getting ready to leave for work in Louisville when the truck came barreling into her apartment. She remained conscious long enough to see Stephanie flee the scene, but she died during emergency surgery later that morning. It was a bizarre collision of two worlds. Through the Mountain States Children's Home, a residential child-care facility near Longmont where her father works, Shawna had been helping troubled girls like Stephanie get their lives back on track ("Running Scared," February 5, 2004).

Had his daughter known Stephanie, she would have helped her, too, Roy Rush says. "Shawna would have said, 'What are you thinking, girl? Get your head screwed on straight.'"

But being charged as an adult with vehicular homicide, vehicular eluding resulting in death and motor-vehicle theft apparently wasn't enough to clue Stephanie in, because just two days after the accident, she ran again. During a trip from a court hearing in Fort Collins to a juvenile facility in Greeley, the driver of the van Stephanie was riding in stopped outside the Larimer County Department of Human Services to pick up another child. As soon as he exited the running vehicle, Stephanie managed to squeeze through a security window and drive off -- with two boys still in back. She ditched the van hours later, and the boys were found, but Stephanie remained on the run until the next day, when police officers found her hiding in an Evans house. That act brought charges of vehicular eluding, first-degree aggravated motor-vehicle theft and escape from a pending felony.

After reaching a plea deal with the Larimer County District Attorney's Office, on April 13 Stephanie was sentenced to six years in the Colorado Department of Corrections; she will serve her time in the youth-offender system, but if she fails to complete her sentence successfully, she'll be sent to prison for an additional six years. After she's released, she'll serve two years of probation, during which time she will talk to other young people about making better choices.

But it's still unclear how Stephanie will be able to prevent others from making mistakes when she has yet to show remorse for her actions. "She never apologized to us for making the bad decision of running, and she told her parole officer that she'd run again if she got a chance," Rush says.

He hopes that after Stephanie has had six years to ruminate on what she's done, she'll come out a better person. For now, though, Rush and his family are relieved to know that they won't have to go to any more hearings and relive the tragedy again. "The night she was sentenced, I went to bed for the first time since this happened without taking a sleeping pill," he says. "Now we can move on with our lives."

 
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