Family of victims in 2001 DUI crash reflect on case as perpetrator is denied parole

Michael Curtis victims
Parole denied for sex offender who killed 4 in 2000 DUI crash
Posted at 10:35 AM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 23:19:59-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Amber Stahlke said her sister loved rock music, especially Korn. She said she was her best friend and the two did everything together.

That's why nearly 20 years after his conviction when Michael Curtis appealed for parole, Stahlke was at his hearing with a victim impact statement in hand.

"I mean there are so many words I want to say to him but I just don't know the words right now," she said.

Curtis was denied parole on Tuesday after his February 2002 conviction for second-degree murder, unlawful sexual intercourse and sexual battery. He was initially sentenced to life in prison.

According to the Kern County District Attorney's Office, on November 18, 2001, Curtis drove under the influence to buy beer and in the process picked up 13-year-old Shantelee Batchelor and two of her friends, Tara Mitchell and Amy Simons-Spaulding, both aged 14. Also in the car that night was 20-year-old Jeffrey Chaffin.

The DA's Office said Curtis had already been drinking that night when he picked up the girls. They said he then drove more than 104 miles an hour through fog so thick he could not even see past the hood of the car.

Curtis soon lost control and crashed into a power pole.

Chaffin and two of the girls died on impact, the DA's Office said. Stahlke said her sister survived the initial crash.

"From what I know of, my sister was actually left alive for up to 20 minutes when the fire started," she said. "She's actually on the 911 call."

Stahlke was only 11 at the time.

"So me and my friend ended up going to sleep and you know, didn't know that I'd wake up knowing my sister was dead because she got into a car with a drunk driver," she said.

The DA's Office said Curtis fled the scene, leaving Stahlke's sister trapped in the car when it caught fire.

Curtis later falsely claimed to have been carjacked in an effort to avoid responsibility for the deaths he caused, according to the DA's Office.

"I wish he wasn't a poor person and he had better character," Stahlke said. "Whether he was drunk or sober to help my sister out of the car, whether they were dead or alive, instead of running like a coward."

The DA's Office said on the night of the deadly crash, Curtis intended to take advantage of three other young girls.

Curtis had previously sexually assaulted two victims. In April of 2000, he forcefully raped a 14-year-old girl after supplying her with alcohol. Six months later he committed sexual acts upon an unconscious woman, the DA's Office said.

The DA's Office said Curtis has since admitted that he planned to supply the three girls with alcohol. He said intoxicated younger girls were “the perfect scenario” for him, because he felt he was more likely to not be caught if he assaulted younger children, according to the DA's Office.

Curtis's next parole eligibility hearing is anticipated to be scheduled in the next two to five years, according to the DA's Office.

In her victim impact statement, Stahlke wrote that no one pressured Curtis into his actions in 2001. She said during his parole hearings he has tried to shift blame away from himself.

"He's still not taking full responsibility and it's sad to know that he could possibly be let out know that thing things he did were not okay, but it's okay for him to do them," she said.

Liz McKinley, sister of Amy Simons-Spaulding, shared her victim impact statement where she wrote about being a 'Little Sister' and making her sister laugh.

McKinley shared her statement on her sister's birthday on April 7, just days before the hearing. Even though McKinley was 18 months younger than her sister, she wrote how she wishes she could have protected her.