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Aaron Pattan

Aaron Pattan is sentenced in Missoula County Justice Court on Friday for a fatal crash in 2017 in which he fell asleep while driving and collided with a vehicle on U.S. Highway 12, killing 8-year-old Carli Miller.

Carli Miller's family clearly had waited long enough to see the sentencing of a man who fell asleep at the wheel in July 2017 and caused a crash that killed the 8-year-old girl.

Aaron Pattan had already pulled over a few times on July 16, 2017, to try to rest and wake up on his way to work, attorneys said Friday. Still, he fell asleep that morning, veering off the road before overcorrecting, crossing into the oncoming lane on Highway 12 and colliding with the car carrying Carli Miller and her family.

Carli died of her injuries at the hospital. 

Pattan will spend a total of 16 days in county jail for fatal crash, along with six months of probation and an $8,357 restitution order. On Friday he pleaded guilty to careless driving involving death and no contest to driving with a suspended license.

Carli's family brought heartbreaking testimony to Missoula County Justice Court on Friday in making a plea for the full six-month sentence to be served in jail.

"We're all here for a reason," said Perry Miller, Carli's father. "We're all here because of careless and willful disregard for human life."

John Love, the victim's grandfather, said Pattan had to suffer consequences for his decision to drive that day, despite admitted fatigue.

"His choice to drive," Love said, "caused the life of my 8-year-old granddaughter to be taken away."

Love told Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway on Friday that it was the third sentencing hearing he'd been to before the family finally got to see Pattan's reckoning. 

Former Justice of the Peace Marie Andersen had once presided over Pattan's case, which could have been resolved more than a month ago. Court staff confirmed Andersen simply didn't show up twice in December on dates set for Pattan to change his plea. Andersen's absences were a documented concern after the county investigated her office in 2018 for causes that had led to high turnover among her staff. She lost the seat in the 2018 general election to Alex Beal, who took the bench earlier this month.

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Kelly Sellars, a close family friend of the Millers, established a Facebook page "Justice for Carli." Sellars said she would be taking Carli's case to Helena to advocate the state Legislature make changes in the laws that provide more severe consequences in cases such as Pattan's.

"Your name and this case and Carli's face will never be forgotten," Sellars said. "This is just the beginning of the fight."

Sellars also started a GoFundMe page for the family in the days after the fatal crash. Donations soared to more than $30,000 in 18 months to help the family with expenses.

As part of his sentence, Pattan will also advocate for change. Holloway ordered he give four public educational presentations on fatigued driving during his suspended sentence; if he fails, he may be sent to jail to serve that suspended sentence incarcerated. 

Following his 16 days in jail, he will be on house arrest for 60 days, only allowed to leave his home for work or medical reasons. 

"When a person gets behind the wheel, anything that happens to that car is that person's actions," Holloway said. "Mr. Pattan, you made a poor judgment call that day."

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Criminal justice