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Ryan J. Folsom was killed in head-on crash Jan. 7 by Grace Elizabeth Ward. Folsom is pictured with his two young sons and his wife Lauren, who gave birth to their third child earlier this year.

Wrong-way driver in fatal crash gets 18 years

The woman who intentionally drove the wrong way on Interstate 5 and caused a crash that killed a Medford father of three in January was sentenced Friday to at least 18 years in prison.

Shasta County Superior Court Judge Cara Beatty sentenced Grace Elizabeth Ward, of Red Bluff, California, to life in prison after Ward pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office. She will be eligible for parole after 18 years, the DA’s Office says.

Ryan John Folsom, 29, had been driving south in a Honda Accord near Anderson, California, on Jan. 7 when Ward’s Chevrolet Impala hit him head-on, according to the California Highway Patrol. The crash happened at about 12:15 p.m.

CHP said early in the investigation that Ward “may have been suicidal at the time.”

Folsom, a former North Medford High School star athlete, had been driving to UC Davis Medical Center for a job interview, the DA’s Office said. His car came to rest after sliding down an embankment. He died at the scene.

Ward was temporarily hospitalized for injuries including a broken leg. She was charged in Shasta County at the end of January.

Rob Folsom, Ryan Folsom’s brother, said Tuesday afternoon that he didn’t know how he felt about the sentencing yet. Several things were on his mind.

“Part of me feels terrible for Grace and her kids,” he said. “I feel bad for her kids and her family, because I know what it’s like to lose somebody that’s so important.

“Candidly, I’m kind of indifferent where she spends the next 18 years,” he said. “It doesn’t bring Ryan back. It doesn’t give his kids a dad. There’s so many things that it doesn’t do. So to me — that part of the story — it means almost nothing.”

People in multiple states mourned the loss of Folsom, described by former teammates and friends as “special,” “the heart and soul of the team,” “the best teammate you could ever ask for.”

Folsom left his mark as a football and wrestling star at North Medford High, earning all-state honors in both.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in neuroscience from Brigham Young University and would have graduated from University of Texas at San Antonio’s medical school with honors by spring 2018.

The Southern Oregon BYU Alumni Chapter renamed its annual fun run in honor of Folsom. Funds raised from donations to the April 21 run were put toward North Medford High School Foundation scholarships as well as the Southern Oregon BYU Alumni Chapter Scholarship fund.

A GoFundMe campaign, intended to cover the family’s funeral costs as well as Folsom’s student debt, raised $304,721 in less than a month.

He, his wife, Lauren, and their two young sons — Lauren Folsom has since given birth to the couple’s third son — had recently relocated to Medford. They were living with other family members while he interviewed for residency positions at hospitals across the country.

Both Lauren Folsom and Ryan Folsom’s mother, Mindy, addressed the court during the sentencing hearing, the DA’s Office said.

“They described their heartbreaking loss and generously offered forgiveness to Ward,” its release said.

Rob Folsom praised his sister-in-law for “the way she’s doubled down ... mothering full-time and loving her children.”

“I think she deserves a lot of credit and a lot of love, because she’s going through something that is probably harder than anybody else,” he said.

Rob Folsom said he has learned through the experiences of this year that everybody is dealing with hard circumstances and tragedy. While his family’s pain is more public, he feels everyone could use more kindness.

“One of the things that Ryan was so good at — one of the reasons why he had so many friends and people looked up to him and respected him and felt like he had leadership qualities — is because of the way he treated people. And he treated people very kind.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468. Sports Editor Tim Trower also contributed.

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