The moment before Natalie Amalathithada’s life changed forever, the young mother had one thing on her mind: sweets.
Her 6-year-old daughter, Ambrosia Amalathithada-Ramseyer, had received top grades that day on a book report at school.
She was so proud, she offered the girl a reward: “Anything she wanted,” the mother said.
And so they walked together, hand in hand, across State Street to find Ambrosia’s prize.
But their adventure — and Ambrosia’s life — was cut short as Janeen Lundberg’s car careened into the mother and daughter.
The child died. The mother suffered broken legs, a broken pelvis, a skull fracture and brain injury.
On Monday, Lundberg was sentenced to up to five years in prison for driving under the influence of prescription medications when she killed the little girl.
The sentence — shy of the maximum zero to 10 year term Lundberg faced — was a too short for Natalie Amalathithada, who asked 3rd District Judge Robin Reese to sentence the woman to six years, seven months and three days behind bars.
“That’s the exact age my daughter was when Janeen Lundberg took her life,” Amalathithada said. “She should have the same amount of her life taken away, so she can sit there and think about what she’s done for every day my daughter was alive.”
As she spoke, her body shook with sobs. She took an uneven breath before looking up at Lundberg, who stood just feet away.
“You ruined my life,” the mother said, “in so many ways.”
Amalathithada presented a poster board to the court bearing photos of her daughter. Pink ribbons and colorful cardboard frames surrounded images of the child.
“I just want people to remember her,” she said later, outside the courtroom. “I want them to know my daughter mattered, that she was here.”
Lundberg’s fate now rests with the Board of Pardons, who will determine exactly how much time she spends in prison.
Her attorney, John Walsh, said the length of her incarceration is irrelevant, as nothing the court could impose will punish her as much as she has already punished herself. He argued that probation was enough of a sentence.
“The defendant faces a lifetime of painful days and sleepless nights,” Walsh said. “She has a lifetime to reflect on the fact that she ended the life of precious Ambrosia.”
Lundberg, 47, pleaded guilty in September to a reduced third-degree felony count of negligent homicide and driving under the influence of drugs, also a third-degree felony.
According to charging documents, Lundberg was driving under the influence of sedatives about 4 p.m. on March 14, 2012, when she swerved to pass a car in a left-turn lane on State Street near Kensington Avenue (1522 South). She didn’t see the mother and daughter in the crosswalk until it was too late.
Police said Lundberg was traveling between 32 and 38 mph at the time of the fatal accident, and made no attempt to brake.
A blood test revealed Lundberg had several different prescription medications in her system on the day of the accident.
According to court documents, Lundberg was taking Alprazolam, Butalbital, Methocarbamol, Cymbalta and Neurontin. All have sedative effects. Two types of medication the woman had taken were for a history of seizures, her attorney has said.
Lundberg told authorities she stopped at a 7-Eleven prior to the crash and bought coffee, Diet Pepsi and No-Doze because she was worried about staying safe on the road, according to testimony.
Knowing this, and deciding to take the wheel anyway, amounted to recklessness, said prosecutor Sandi Johnson.
“A motor vehicle is a dangerous weapon and we should all be more cautious,” Johnson said. “Any time you abuse medications or take illegal drugs and operate a motor vehicle, you’re a danger to the community.”
Lundberg was initially charged with second-degree felony automobile homicide, for which Lundberg could have been sent to prison for up to 15 years. But in exchange for her pleas, prosecutors dropped two additional misdemeanor counts and lessened the charges.
Lundberg has been in custody since the March 2012 crash.