Driving trouble routine to Drue
Records indicate history of problems before deadly crash
CLIFTON PARK "Can I come get some in an hour," reads the text Dennis Drue sent to a friend at 10:14 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012.
Then 22 and a student at Siena College, he was heading north on Interstate 87, just minutes after leaving Koto Japanese Restaurant in Colonie. A receipt later secured at the restaurant by police showed he had ordered no less than four shots of gin, on top of three beers he had earlier in the day — enough alcohol that another diner asked if he was OK to drive, according to police.
Drue flashed a "stop DWI" keychain attached to his car keys and asserted he was fine, according to a witness interviewed by the Saratoga County District Attorney's Office. After all, Drue was heard saying, he'd driven drunk before.
Text messages later secured from Drue's phone by police are replete with marijuana references — some about selling it, some about buying it and some about smoking it. In his blood was 8.4 nanograms per milliliter of tetrahydrocannabinol —the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That amount, prosecutors later said, was more than twice what other states consider intoxicated.
Mixed with the alcohol, the level of marijuana was crippling. Combined with the speed of Drue's vehicle on the Northway and the texts he was firing out to friends, it was lethal.
Within three minutes of sending his last text, police said Drue veered his 2004 Volvo S60 across two lanes of traffic and smashed into the rear bumper of a 2000 Ford Explorer driven by Chris Stewart, 17, a senior at Shenendehowa High School and a captain of the varsity football team. Traveling an estimated 85 mph, Drue's vehicle caused Stewart's Explorer, which was doing the 55 mph speed limit, to barrel-roll across the highway, crushing him and flinging his close friend, 17-year-old Deanna Rivers, from the vehicle, according to police,
"The victims never saw [Drue] coming," Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said following Drue’s sentencing Thursday on a 56-count indictment that included felony counts of vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated.
Matt Hardy, Rivers' boyfriend of more than a year and Stewart's teammate on the Shen football team, was partially thrown from the vehicle. Bailey Wind, Stewart's girlfriend of more than a year, was left in the fetal position, clinging to life in the crumpled vehicle for nearly two hours.
"Think about the terror going on in that SUV," Wind said at Thursday’s sentencing, "and then picture the SUV flipping over and over again and slamming violently into trees. When a vehicle flips, it's like a tornado goes through it."
Drue, who wasn't wearing his seat belt, sustained a mild concussion. On the side of the road, he told troopers and emergency responders he slid on black ice, openly lamenting his wrecked car.
Drue's apparent callousness was recounted by the families of his victims at his sentencing. Some also questioned how he was allowed to continue driving with a record that included 13 speeding violations, four at-fault accidents and a license revocation for accruing too many points over an 18-month period.
But Drue was able to get many of the speeding violations reduced to lesser charges or dismissed altogether. At least six of his speeding violations were pleaded down to lesser offenses, according to documentation provided by Murphy after Drue’s sentencing.
Five of Drue's speeding violations were reduced to failure to obey a traffic device. The charge still carries two points, but far fewer than Drue would have faced had he been convicted of driving at the speed he was recorded traveling by police.
For instance, Drue was recorded driving 14 mph above the limit in Colonie in January 2012 — a violation that would have earned him four points on his license. Instead, he pleaded down to the traffic device charge, which earned him half as many points.
Still, Murphy said the number of violations Drue amassed during the five years leading up to the crash only once impacted his ability to drive. Any points accrued by a driver vanish after 18 months,
Drue 's history of drug use was also something that came to light during the investigation. Text messages seized from his phone allude to frequent drug use.
"The defendant lived a life heavily steeped in the alcohol and marijuana culture," Murphy said of Drue, who was shipped downstate to begin serving the first days of his 5- to 15-year prison sentence Friday.
In contrast, his victims were clean, with not a trace of drugs or alcohol in their system. The four teens had just come from a double-date, watching the University at Albany men's basketball team beat Siena College, and Stewart was dropping the girls off at a sleep-over party.
"They were completely innocent and did absolutely nothing to contribute to their deaths and serious injuries," Murphy said. "The defendants actions alone caused these deaths ... and I don't think there's any way to state that more clearly."