The mother of the Lindenhurst teenager killed by a drunken driver told the defendant at his sentencing Monday that she would never forgive him and it was too bad he didn't die in the crash instead of her daughter.
Cheryl Walsh, mother of Brittney, 18, spoke shortly before state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen sentenced Michael Grasing, 34, of West Babylon to the maximum of 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident without reporting a fatality.
Grasing hit Walsh's car from behind at high speed while driving with a blood-alcohol content of .32 percent, four times the legal limit. The collision sent Walsh's Kia Sportage tumbling sideways down Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst.
Grasing had been charged with second-degree murder, but a jury acquitted him of that charge, not finding enough evidence to prove he acted with depraved indifference to human life.
"At the end of the trial, after you got away with murder, you told your attorney, 'You saved my life,' " Cheryl Walsh said. "Well, what about the life you took? If only you had died that night and Brittney had lived, the world would be a better place . . . I will never forgive you."
After colliding with Walsh, Grasing drove another three blocks on the sidewalk, narrowly missing other people, before hitting a utility pole.
"Brittney never ran from anything, like you tried to that night," Cheryl Walsh said before a packed Riverhead courtroom. "I had to look for Brittney myself" the night of June 24, 2012, when she didn't return from her job. "This is how my worst nightmare started, and it has never ended."
Thomas Walsh, Brittney's father, made reference to what a police officer reported Grasing said in the hospital: "At least it wasn't a baby."
Walsh pounded his chest, turned to Grasing and said, "Bro, she was my baby."
"I never said that," Grasing said softly.
Grasing apologized when it was his turn to speak.
"It hurts me every day that I caused the death of this beautiful, young girl," he said. "I just want to say I'm sorry, and that I will grieve for you myself."
Walsh's parents rejected his words.
"There is no apology for his actions," Cheryl Walsh said afterward.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe struggled to maintain her composure as she asked Cohen to impose the maximum possible sentence. She said the violence of the crash and the injuries that killed Walsh were particularly horrific, as was his willingness to drive with such an extreme level of intoxication.
"He never had any sense of moral concern for Brittney, or anyone," Newcombe said.
Defense attorney William Keahon praised Walsh family members for their grace during the six-week trial and said he understood why they wouldn't believe Grasing was remorseful.
"I know they can't accept that," he said in court. "I wouldn't, either."
Still, Keahon said his client was sincere and he had no intent to hurt anyone that night.
"But he did," Keahon said. "He drank, and he drank. He caused the death of a young lady we would all be proud to have as a daughter."
He urged Cohen to impose the sentence for leaving the scene concurrently, arguing his client may have been knocked unconscious by the collision with Walsh's car and didn't leave the scene intentionally.
Cohen, however, said he wished he could have sentenced Grasing more harshly, and urged the State Legislature to change the law to permit that in cases where people mix "alcohol and speed in a two-ton missile."
He said he had read 469 letters from residents and community leaders on the case and received hundreds more. "Society should have the ability to send a message," he said. "Justice speaks loudly for a severe and just sentence."
He imposed the maximum sentences of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide and 2 1/3 to 7 years for leaving the scene, and ordered the sentences to be served consecutively.
Afterward, District Attorney Thomas Spota echoed Cohen's call for increased penalties in such cases and blamed the Assembly for not permitting it.
Keahon said later he hopes the sentence, if not the conviction itself, is reversed on appeal.
Quotes from the trial:
Cheryl Walsh, mother of Brittney:
"Brittney was an amazing person, the best daughter anyone could have asked for."
To Grasing: "I hate you more and more. I watched you nod and wink to your family during the trial. I could not wink to Brittney. You still don't care."
"My son will never have a sister again. Sean is an only child now."
Whenever Grasing is up for parole: "I will be there every time. That's a promise."
To Grasing: "There is no words for you. There is no words. Please everyone, don't drink and drive. Every day, I say why did Brittney have to die, and why did you live? Every day. Every day."
Thomas Walsh, father of Brittney:
To Grasing: "Your behavior was unacceptable, joking in the ambulance [after the crash] about whether this was a spaceship. This is not a laughing time."
To judge: "Please, don't have sympathy for this man."
Sean Walsh, Brittney's brother, in a letter read by prosecutor Laura Newcombe:
"I am 15 years old. Brittney was the best sister. We did everything together. I went to all her soccer games. She went to all of mine. We supported each other."
On June 24, 2012: "I remember crying in my mom's arms. I never cried like that before. I hear my mom cry at night now. My dad stays busy."
"I will never be the same. His life should change forever, too. He deserves a life sentence. Brittney needs justice."
Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe:
"This case . . . stuck with me. I watched grown men with 30 years' experience welling up in preparation for their testimony at trial."
"To see the destruction he caused over three blocks, you just get this sense of depravity, again, on the defendant's part."
Defense attorney William Keahon:
"I have never met a family like the Walshes. They are the goodness that we all wish we would see on a daily basis from others."
To his family, after apologizing to the Walshes: "I apologize to my family. I've disgraced them. I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed."
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen:
"Society lost a valuable member on that June night, whose potential just evaporated."
"Now, grief and sadness are the memories of so many people of Brittney."