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Missoula woman gets 40 years in state hospital for mental health crisis that injured two

Missoula woman gets 40 years in state hospital for mental health crisis that injured two

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A Missoula woman was sentenced this week to 40 years in the Montana State Hospital for seriously injuring two people during a mental health crisis more than a year ago. 

Nicole Serna, 42, ran down and critically wounded one woman near Chief Charlo Elementary School and a man on Hillview Way with her pickup in March 2018, according to court records. At the time, she was suffering from untreated mental illness, Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks said at her sentencing on Tuesday.

Last month, Serna pleaded "guilty but mentally ill" to criminal endangerment and two counts of attempted deliberate homicide as part of a plea agreement that dismissed two counts of negligent endangerment. While Missoula District Judge Leslie Halligan sentenced Serna to a 40-year commitment to the state hospital, Serna will be able to petition for a sentence review once cleared by top-level staff there.

She appeared by video on Tuesday from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services facility, where she's been undergoing treatment since her arrest. At this time last year, her defense attorney John Smith wrote in court documents that Serna had begun responding to treatment at the state hospital, but was still unable to be evaluated by forensic staff. 

On Tuesday, Smith said experts at the facility were optimistic about the progress she was making there. She sat quietly at a table and did not make a statement to the court. Several family members were in the courtroom for her support. 

While one victim was generally supportive of the plea agreement, Marks said another victim, a woman who was unconscious and on a ventilator for several days after the incident, still had concerns about the safety risk Serna posed if she were to return to the public. 

Marks said he believed Serna's aggression that day stemmed solely from untreated mental illness.

"I don't think the driving was the issue here," he said. 

Halligan also noted recent reports from the facility and said she was "encouraged by the progress" Serna had made in treatment in the last year. 

"I know there are individuals in the community that have been injured, and I hope to recognize those injuries," Halligan said. "I understand your actions were driven largely by your mental illness, and I hope you'll be successful in maintaining your stability."

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