Home Vehicle Accidents Man sentenced in drunk driving crash; Melissa Cota of Oconto died

Man sentenced in drunk driving crash; Melissa Cota of Oconto died

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OCONTO – Instead of a keepsake to cherish, Dana Erickson says her mother’s charred wedding ring is an awful reminder of the drunken driving crash that claimed her life.

Travis Ragen made numerous wrong choices on Nov. 15, 2019, culminating in the death of Melissa Cota, 53, of Oconto, Erickson said Friday at Ragen sentencing hearing.

“Because of your choices, my mom is dead,” the Green Bay woman told Ragen and the gallery, which included about 35 family members and friends of the victim, all who wore buttons with Cota’s photo.

Ragen, 34, of Lena, was subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle by Oconto County Judge Michael T. Judge.

The sentence was less than Erickson and others hoped.

Dana Erickson of Green Bay talks about the impact of the death of her mother, Melissa Cota of Oconto, who was killed in a drunken driving crash on Nov. 15, 2019, during the sentencing of Travis Ragen of Lena on July 29.

“I know nothing will bring my mom back, but the maximum allowable sentence of 15 years of prison would be a start,” Erickson said. “And it would send a message to our community … that drinking and driving have consequences … (though) it won’t ease the pain.”

However, the sentence was more than the 7½ years of initial confinement recommended to Judge by both the state and the defense, which Cota’s husband Jeremy called “a slap in the face to me and everyone else that was fortunate to have Missy in their life.”

Cota said driving by the crash site – about 5 miles west of Oconto, less than a mile from his home – is painful.

Jeremy Cota of Oconto talks about his late wife Melissa in a statement to the court at the sentencing of Travis Ragen of Lena on July 29.

“You took one of the most kindhearted, gentle souls in the world from us …,” Cota said. “Missy had a big heart. She was sweetest person I knew. (Someone) who would do anything for anyone at any time.”

Wendy Thompson of Oconto said she was lost without her best friend of more than 40 years.

Wendy Thompson of Oconto speaks about the loss of her best friend during the sentencing hearing July 29 of Travis Ragen of Lena.

“You ripped out my heart the day you took her life,” Thompson told Ragen.

In their statements, Erickson, Cota and Thompson all said they were upset that Ragen hadn’t shown remorse in the last 2½ years.

“Do you feel sorry?” Erickson asked. “I’m not seeing it.”

Jill Charlier contended her nephew had shown “extreme remorse” and was “not the monster portrayed in social media.”

“He was on suicide watch (after the crash)  and had said numerous times and he wishes it was him, and not her,” she said.

Charlier, who said she was a nurse with psychiatric qualifications, said Ragen had stopped taking psychotropic medication for depression before the crash, “which can have serious neurological consequences.”

Jill Charlier speaks on behalf of her nephew, Travis Ragen, at his sentencing on July 29 in Oconto County Circuit Court.

She also addressed the Cota family.

“There’s not enough words to convey to you how sorry our family is,” Charlier said. “We hope you can someday find peace in your heart.”

The crash occurred about 11 p.m. when Ragen’s pickup entered the shoulder of westbound State 22 near Logtown Road. It was initially reported as a one-vehicle rollover in the ditch, with the vehicle on fire, because Cota’s car — pinned underneath Ragen’s truck in the ditch — was hidden from view.

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