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Driver responsible for deaths of two Gretna women, unborn child to serve at least 16 years

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A 22-year-old Omaha man will spend at least 16 years in prison for causing the deaths of two women and an unborn child last year while driving drunk at over 100 mph.

Zachary Paulison had a blood-alcohol concentration of more than two times the legal limit when his Ford F-250 pickup collided with a Nissan SUV at 192nd and F streets on March 31, 2022, prosecutor Ryan Lindberg said. The Nissan’s occupants, Amanda Schook, 38, and Sara Zimmerman, 37, who was eight months pregnant, were pronounced dead at the scene.

“This is a case that demands extensive and consecutive prison sentences,” Lindberg told Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty.

“Zachary Paulison made a decision that killed three people.”

Omaha police said Paulison was traveling at 102 to 104 mph with a BAC of .161% after drinking at two bars. Lindberg said the then-21-year-old had been drinking at one bar in west Omaha and then went to a second, where a bartender later offered to call him a ride. He refused.

About 11 p.m. that night, a video from Elkhorn South High School showed Paulison’s pickup truck headed south on 204th Street. Another motorist estimated Paulison passed him going 80 to 90 mph. Paulison turned east onto F Street at speeds topping 100 mph. Lindberg said software from the F-250 showed Paulison’s pickup reached 104.7 mph five seconds before the crash, then 102 mph immediately before. The pickup’s software showed his throttle at 100%, meaning Paulison didn’t hit the brakes before impact.

Doughtery said Paulison will serve 16 years before he is eligible for parole. He must be released after serving 18½ years, followed by a lengthy revocation of his driver’s license. He also must install an ignition interlock device in his vehicle to prevent drunken driving.

“Mr. Paulison was driving in such a fashion that he was going to kill whoever he hit,” Lindberg said. “The people in that (Nissan) were not recognizable,” noting that police had to ask relatives where the women had dental work done to confirm their identities.

Roland Handley, Schook’s father, read a lengthy statement prior to Paulison’s sentencing, asking the judge to impose the maximum possible sentence. Paulison had faced up to 43 years in prison.

“We shouldn’t be here, and this shouldn’t have happened,” Handley said. “My daughter had to have a closed casket.”

Amanda Schook was a speech pathologist at a skilled nursing home in Omaha, a wife to Wesley and a mother to three children: Harrison, Molly and Violet. Zimmerman was a Douglas County corrections officer and was pregnant with her fourth child. She is survived by husband Brian and children Makenna, Brody and Zoey. In a halting, tearful statement, Paulison told the court that he will regret his actions for the rest of his life. He spoke about meeting someone while doing community service who knew Zimmerman. The person told him that Zimmerman was loved and respected by Douglas County inmates for her work in the jail’s outreach programs.

“He told me that many of the inmates hate me for taking Sara away from them,” Paulison said. “I want everyone to know how truly sorry I am.”

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