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Omaha man who was drunk, speeding pleads no contest in crash that killed 2

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His blood alcohol content was more than twice the limit. So was his speed.

The results were devastating: Drunk and driving a Ford F-250 pickup, Zachary Paulison was traveling 102 to 104 mph when he barreled into the driver’s side of a car at 192nd and F streets, killing two Gretna women, one of whom was eight months pregnant.

For that, Paulison, of Omaha, pleaded no contest earlier this month to two counts of motor vehicle homicide and one count of causing the death of an unborn child. He faces up to 43 years in prison when Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty sentences him in January.

The plea means Paulison won’t go through a trial detailing what he did that caused the deaths of friends Amanda Schook, 38, and Sara Zimmerman, 37, who were southbound on 192nd Street that night on their way home from a concert.

Not everyone welcomed the trial bypass. Schook’s father said a trial would have exposed just how dangerous Paulison’s behavior was — and the extent of the devastation he caused. Paulison floored his Ford, topping 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. About 30 minutes after the crash, Paulison’s blood alcohol level was .161 — double the .08 legal limit.

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 eight months pregnant with her fourth child. She is survived by husband Brian and children Makenna, Brody and Zoey.

On Nov. 2, prosecutor Ryan Lindberg took the court through Paulison’s actions that night. The then-21-year-old was drinking at one bar in west Omaha and then went to a second. Before he left the second, a bartender offered to call him a ride. He refused.

About 11 p.m. March 31, 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 and his speeds topped 100 mph.

Lindberg said software from the F-250 showed Paulison reached 104.7 mph five seconds before the crash, then 102 mph immediately before. The software showed his throttle at 100%, meaning Paulison didn’t hit the brakes before impact.

The crash occurred three minutes after Paulison left the last bar.

A neighbor at the scene witnessed Zimmerman’s Armada burst into flames and roll into the southeast corner of the intersection.

“This is the most egregious factual scenario that I can remember in the level of intoxication, the speed and the devastation that Mr. Paulison has wrought here on our community,” Lindberg has said.

Now 22, Paulison faces a maximum of 21½ years in prison, real time. His attorney, Glenn Shapiro, declined to comment outside of court.

Schook’s father said the potential punishment doesn’t account for Paulison’s deliberate recklessness. He said he went to the scene the next day. The acrid smell of burning metal and grass was still present.

“I want everybody to know what happened to my daughter and to Sara,” he said. “This guy intentionally drank and drove, weaving back and forth on the road, at night. ... People (at trial) could have seen the photographs, could have seen the fire, could have seen how far the vehicle was pushed off of the road, all of the details.

“It was a horrible scene. ... It was a horrible way to go. And that hasn’t been expressed.”

Both women were known for going above and beyond in their jobs. Schook was disarming, working with patients to overcome their disabilities. Zimmerman was known as a “ray of light ... in a dark place” — caring and encouraging to inmates. Both were wonderful mothers, friends say.

“The loss is not only to the families,” Schook’s father said. “It’s to the community.”

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