Drunken driver's sentence angers victims' family
Relatives of two teenagers killed last year in a drunken-driving crash said the driver got just a "slap on the wrist" Tuesday when a State Supreme Court justice sentenced him to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
Justice William Condon also gave Ryan Foote, 18, of Mastic, youthful offender status, which means his criminal record will remain sealed.
"I'm angry with the judge. I'm angry with everyone," Catera Jackson, sister of one victim and aunt of the other, said in court. "I feel like we lost all the way around."
Foote pleaded guilty last month to aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges. He admitted driving drunk and high on marijuana on July 21, 2012, when he picked up two of his friends, James McClease, 18, of Mastic, and Rashawn Minter, 17, of Mastic Beach, to get cigarettes. He lost control of his car and hit three trees, ejecting McClease and Minter and killing them instantly.
Catera Jackson said the crash has ripped her tight-knit family apart.
"We argue with each other," she said. "We fight with each other."
"No family should have to endure this pain," said Tanisha Jackson, mother of Minter and sister of McClease. "I'm not here to say Ryan was a bad kid."
"I think he's genuinely remorseful," Condon said, interrupting her.
"I don't see it," she replied, starting to cry. "I don't see it from him, and I don't see it from his family. . . . My son and my brother trusted him that night. I hope I can find forgiveness one day. But not now."
When it was Foote's turn to speak, he turned to face the family. One relative muttered, "I don't even want to look at him."
As he began to read a statement, his face reddened and crumpled into tears.
"I caused the death of my two friends and destroyed their families," he said, once he regained his composure. "I hurt every day for you."
Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco noted that Foote rejected Condon's offer to seek substance-abuse treatment while in jail. She acknowledged that Foote was a good student in high school, but said Minter and McClease were, too.
The only mistake they made was asking Foote for a ride, not knowing he was high and drunk, with a 0.14 percent blood-alcohol content, nearly double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
She asked Condon to sentence Foote to 6 to 18 years in prison and not give him youthful offender status. "The people are asking you to have the punishment fit the crime," she said.
Defense attorney Daniel Russo of Westhampton Beach apologized to the victims' family and said the Footes hadn't done the same on his advice. He said his client wanted to take responsibility from the start.
"These were his buddies. These were his friends," Russo said. "This is the ultimate in bad decisions that he's going to pay for."
Before imposing sentence, Condon said no length of time in prison would bring Minter or McClease back. He told Foote to make the rest of his life a testament to his friends.
And to their family, he said, "No sentence will be fair for you."