The family of Leo Schneider sat by the 13-year-old’s bedside for 138 days before he succumbed to the injuries he sustained in a rollover crash outside Cle Elum in August 2018.

He was one of three children who died after being ejected from David J. Cohen’s SUV. Only Cohen was wearing a seatbelt, and his child, Max, 12, died on the scene.

Thirteen-year-old Nico Luiggi died two months later, followed by Leo Schneider in January.

After nearly a year of waiting, Matthew Schneider and Sylvia Bolton say they did not get the justice they wanted for Leo.

Bolton said Kittitas County Deputy Prosecutor Craig Juris had promised them last December that there would be no bargaining, and that he would seek the maximum sentence at Cohen’s trial.

“And then, after our son had died, they came over here to meet up with us in Seattle for the upcoming hearing,” Schneider said. “And, sure enough, they had pleaded out.”

“They were very insistent that if it went to trial, he may walk,” Bolton said. “We just sat there bewildered asking, ‘Why is he doing this?’”

Cohen, 52, was taking his son and three of Max’s friends to a river rafting trip on Aug. 27, 2018, when he attempted to pass a semi on Highway 970. Seeing oncoming vehicles ahead, Cohen swerved off the road and rolled his Mazda Tribute. Only one of the boys ejected from the vehicle survived, but will have lifelong challenges from the injuries he sustained.

“Three 13-year-old boys were killed because he was high on drugs — 4.9 nanograms — with no seatbelt, and he was driving erratically,” Schneider said.

Cohen was on prescribed antidepressants and marijuana during the time of the accident, and he was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.

Had he gone to trial, as the families of the victims had thought he would, Cohen could have received a sentence closer to 20 years in prison.

Under a plea agreement reached between Cohen’s defense attorney and the Kittitas County Prosecutor’s Office, he was sentenced on Sept. 20 to 75 months in prison, followed by 18 months of community custody.

That’s just 18 months per child.

“We can’t bring our son back,” Schneider said. “You think we would get some justice out of this.”

Juris tells Queen Anne News that when he met with the families of the victims last winter he had said he would not put a plea agreement on the table.

“What happened was the defense attorney reached out to me and proposed a resolution,” Juris said. “I then spoke to the families, all separately.”

He said the defense attorney had proposed a 60-month sentence, but he pushed for 75 months. While Cohen pleaded guilty as charged, Juris said, his sentencing was based only on disregard for public safety, and not for being under the influence or recklessness.

“Just taking everything into consideration, and all the people involved, that’s where we ended up,” Juris said. “It gets very difficult when you have multiple victims and multiple families that you’re working with.”

Juris said the parents of Nico Luiggi accepted the terms of the plea agreement.

Leo Schneider’s parents did not.

“They were not accepting in that they did not think it was enough,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Cohen’s former wife was accepting, in that she thought it was too much.”

Schneider said he watched Bolton appeal to the judge for 45 minutes during the sentencing.

“It was one of those things,” he said, “I could see the judge’s eyes — he didn’t like it.”

Bolton sought the opinion of a criminal attorney to find out how such a plea agreement could be allowed. Leo Schneider’s parents say there was an error of justice by treating the deaths of three boys as one when it came to criminal conduct, and also for not pushing an enhanced penalty as defined in state code due to Cohen’s intoxication.

“They grouped them all into one accident,” Schneider said, “and the RCW proved that isn’t right.”

One part of Washington code Bolton cited in her plea to the judge ahead of Cohen’s sentencing was RCW 9.94A.589, addressing criminal conduct: “Same criminal conduct, means two or more crimes that require the same criminal intent, are committed at the same time and place, and involve the same victim. This definition applies in cases involving vehicular assault or vehicular homicide even if the victims occupied the same vehicle.” 

While Leo’s parents wanted him to take the case to trial, so a jury could decide Cohen’s guilt and sentencing, Juris said the outcome could have ended up differently.

“Trials are a difficult thing. There’s no guarantee of any kind of outcome at trial,” he said, “and then there’s always appeals and that sort of thing.”

Schneider is still outraged over the plea agreement, and said he’s planning to use his marketing skills and resources to come down on the prosecutor’s office in Kittitas County during the next election.

“I come home to an empty home every night,” Schneider said. “I don’t even want to spend the weekends here, because there’s no laughter, there’s no joy.”

Schneider said he wrote a letter to Cohen every day, and he finally received an apology during sentencing.

“Leo was our only child … and that bastard killed him,” Schneider said. “He was buckled in — Cohen was buckled in — but he didn’t care about the kids.”

Schneider said he often wakes up crying. There’s a photograph of Leo in his old room that he kisses every morning and night.

“We spent 138 days by his bedside,” he said. “He died in his mother’s arms.”