Collierville woman seeks higher appeal in fatal crash sentence

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Collierville woman given a 30-day jail sentence in a deadly crash is now asking an appeals court to grant diversion.

Sterling Panchikal reached a plea deal with prosecutors on April 6, but attorneys gave notice of appeal a month later on May 5, according to court records.

The appeal does not seek to change the terms of the plea, but is instead a second attempt to have the case placed on diversion, according to Larry Buser with the Shelby County District Attorney's Office.

Diversion is a special type of probation that can have a defendant's charges erased if they complete several years of good behavior or other conditions set by the court.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft denied the first petition for diversion because he felt the charges needed to remain on her permanent record, so the matter now heads to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Buser said.

"You waive your right to appeal a conviction when you enter a guilty plea, but you can appeal a denial of diversion," he explained.

Panchikal was 17 when investigators say her car crossed over a grass median on State Route 385 and hit two vehicles on May 2, 2015.

Alejandra Sanchez-Ponce, 47, a mother of 13 children, was killed.

Panchikal was indicted in May 2017 on charges vehicular homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance because investigators said they discovered vodka, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia in her vehicle.

Under the deal announced in April, Panchikal pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and four counts of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon.

She was sentenced to 30 days of confinement with the Shelby County Department of Corrections in addition to six years probation, but has yet to serve any of the term while the appeals process plays out, Buser said.

The lead attorney listed for Panchikal was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.

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