In somber courtroom, Rumrill sentenced
Family mourns loss of Joe Barton as Melissa Rumrill is incarcerated
When the prison gates click shut behind Melissa Rumrill, the outside world will start to disappear. Behind the doors is a world where each person loses their individual freedoms, where they are confined to a 70-square-foot prison cell and surrounded by criminals.
This is the former MSU student’s reality.
Rumrill was sentenced Wednesday to serve 30 months to 15 years in prison on drunken driving charges stemming from an August 2008 car accident that killed MSU student Joe Barton.
“Like I said before, there is so much pain and suffering his family has had to go through,” Rumrill said Wednesday. “I am so sorry.”
Police said Rumrill drove the wrong way down US-127 and ran into another car. A second vehicle crashed into the first car. Barton was a passenger in the two-door Saturn that Rumrill was driving. Friends of Barton said the two were heavily intoxicated that night.
She pleaded no contest to one count of drunken driving causing death and one count of drunken driving causing serious injury.
Rumrill will serve her sentence at Huron Valley Women’s Complex in Ypsilanti, which holds up to 927 women inmates and is the only prison in Michigan that houses females.
But Rumrill’s journey doesn’t start there. John Cordell, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said every prisoner goes to a reception and guidance center for a period of 30 to 90 days before entering prison to become familiar with prison life.
There, they are put through multiple screenings to determine education level, mental and physical health and other variables prohibiting prisoners from a successful transition into society.
With the screens, a transition accountability plan is created, which gives prisoners a “road map to success,” Cordell said.
“It’s an agreement between us and them for what we both need to accomplish, so they can successfully re-enter into society,” he said.
After the plan is crafted, it is instituted at each individual criminal’s prison, where they will receive help based on their needs.
Once Rumrill arrives at the prison, she will start her individual program. She will be assigned to a 70-square-foot cell — more than 100 square feet smaller than any dorm room in the Brody Complex — and be monitored 24 hours a day.
Picking up the pieces
Those left behind from the accident — the victims of the crash and family members of Joe Barton — will have to start acclimating to life on their own.
Psychology junior Kris Amos remembers the night Rumrill ran into his Oldsmobile Achieva on US-127. He remembers the headlights coming at his car in the late hours of the night, and how he put his head down on the steering wheel before the crash.
“I woke up and I was like, I didn’t know what happened,” Amos said.
“I thought I had gone over to the other side of the road. I was like, ‘Did I fall asleep or something?’”
Amos said after the accident his grades started to slip, he turned to alcohol for comfort and the anxiety of riding as a passenger in a car was too much to handle.
Gina Guinn, a passenger in the car that hit Amos’ Oldsmobile, and her mother Jean Guinn, said the aftermath of the crash has caused physical and emotional pain.
“I mean, you can never, ever compare her sentence, and the rest of her life, to my life, ever,” Gina Guinn said.
A family moves forward
Barton’s family will never forget what the accident took from them, because the gaping hole in their family will be a constant reminder.
“The wound created by this girl’s actions was very deep,” Barton’s uncle Jim Magara said. “It’s everlasting.”
Since Barton’s death, Magara said his family has grown closer. He said he is constantly on the phone, talking with his sister and Joe Barton’s mother, Kathy Barton, trying to make sense of what has happened.
Kathy Barton declined to comment Sunday.
Magara said although the pain still is there, his family is relieved their 18-month saga finally has come to a close.
“We’re happy that (Rumrill) is incarcerated, because we believe that’s where she should be for what she has done,” he said.
Magara said he will never forget his nephew’s smile, and how much he cared for everyone around him. The accident will serve as a lesson for everyone to exercise discretion and caution when making decisions while intoxicated, he said.
“Joe was right in the prime of his life,” Magara said. “To lose him is just an absolute and everlasting loss that just can’t be replaced.”