LARAMIE -- A 48-year-old Kansas woman, Tonya Hightower, was convicted by an Albany Co. jury Wednesday of aggravated homicide by vehicle for the 2018 death of 57-year-old Vidal Madera of Laramie after apparently falling asleep behind the wheel of her semi-truck.

The guilty verdict came after about 2 hours of deliberation. Hightower now faces a prison term of up to 20 years after the three-day trial in Albany County’s District Court.

The jury had to decide if Hightower’s decision to drive the truck while overly fatigued constituted recklessness in order to convict her of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Prior to the trial, Hightower was free on bond, but Judge Tori Kricken ordered her to be remanded to the custody of the county jail pending sentencing Wednesday.

The defendant will only be released before sentencing if she posts a $50,000 cash bond.

Court records indicate the wreck occurred at about 5 a.m. March 21, 2018, when Hightower was driving a tractor-trailer west on Interstate 80.

She had just entered Albany County when she apparently fell asleep and the semi-truck veered south off the road.

Hightower’s truck drove through the 75-foot median and entered the eastbound lanes, striking Madera’s red sedan.

An evaluation of the tractor-trailer’s trajectory indicated Hightower’s vehicle was traveling 45-57 mph at the time it struck Madera’s sedan.

According to an affidavit from Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Simmons, Madera’s sedan was “torn roughly in half.”

After Hightower struck the sedan, the tractor-trailer continued southwest, leaving the interstate before passing through a wire fence and coming to a stop in a field.

Simmons said Madera suffered “extreme, fatal injuries.” His seatbelt had been fastened at the time of the wreck. When police arrived at the scene, the seatbelt was still buckled even though Madera’s body was not in the vehicle.

When WHP Trooper Dustin Ragon responded to the accident, Hightower told him she “did not know what happened and that she just lost control of the vehicle.”

Ragon asked whether Madera’s car had been parked when Hightower struck it, but she didn’t realize she had hit another vehicle.

Hightower told the trooper that before the wreck, she had taken some leftover pills from a 2017 surgery, although she did not test positive for narcotics when a blood draw was conducted later, according to the court records.

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