Tears, apology mark sentencing in DWI crash
Updated 6:10 p.m.
BALLSTON SPA The West Milton man who killed a 14-year-old girl last July while driving drunk apologized profusely in Saratoga County Court on Wednesday before he was sent to state prison.
Gavin Staulters, 22, was sentenced by County Court Judge Jerry J. Scarano to two to six years in state prison under an agreement made when he pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter in December. The maximum sentence for the Class D felony could have been 21⁄3 to 7 years in prison.
Relatives of victim Kari M. Liedel — who was standing on the side of West Milton Road around 8:30 p.m. July 7 when Staulters hit and killed her — said she can’t be brought back by the sentence, or by an apology.
“There is no justice,” her mother, Sarah Liedel, said following the court proceeding, at which she gave a victim impact statement. She carried a photo of her daughter.
Kari Liedel, of Atomic Project Road in West Milton, was an aspiring singer who would have been a freshman at Ballston Spa High School this year. Authorities said she was waiting on the side of the road for a friend after they had walked to a local convenience store together. Staulters missed the friend by inches, prosecutors said.
The courtroom was packed with about 100 friends and family members of both the girl and the man who killer her. There were so many people present that the sentencing was moved to a larger courtroom. Scarano said he had received numerous letters, some attesting to Staulters’ character and others urging the maximum sentence.
Staulters, who has been free on bail, made his in-court apology after hearing victim impact statements from Liedel’s parents and also statements from the attorneys. He sobbed audibly when a prosecutor spoke about the impact of his actions.
“To say I’m sorry does not begin to cover it,” Staulters told the judge. “I made the choice to drink and drive.
“I hope today offers some peace and closure,” he continued. “For me, part of the punishment is I will never feel peace and closure. … I will live with the guilt and regret every day of my life.”
Staulters’ attorney, Frederick Rench, said his client has taken responsibility. He said Staulters stopped after the accident and waited for police, he surrendered for arrest when the investigation was complete days later, then pleaded guilty Dec. 7 prior to being indicted by a grand jury.
“He is a good person who made a very, very bad decision,” Rench said, noting that Staulters was serving in the Air National Guard.
Sarah Liedel, in her victim impact statement, said Staulters had been drinking at a graduation party before he decided to drive. “Drunk driving is not an accident. It is a conscious choice,” she said. “A vehicle is not just a car but a deadly weapon. On July 7, 2012, at 8:33 p.m., my daughter was violently taken from me by a person who made the choice to wield a deadly weapon while under the influence of a mind-altering drug.”
She also recounted the many events in Kari Liedel’s future life that she will miss, such as picking out a prom dress and seeing her graduate.
“It is not natural for a parent to outlive their child, and not natural for a 14-year-old child to be so violently torn from life,” her mother said, as many people in the gallery sobbed along with her.
She also read a statement from Kari Liedel’s father, Bruce Campbell, who urged the maximum sentence.
He said his last conversation with his daughter was a “senseless argument” about getting her bellybutton pierced, and said Christmas was an emotional struggle last month.
“I found myself picking out things that she would’ve loved for Christmas or that just fit her perfectly,” he wrote. “Breaking down to tears in the middle of crowded stores was the normal for me.”
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Campion told the court a prison sentence is appropriate.
“I don’t believe the defendant intended to cause Kari Liedel’s death, but the fact is he did. The choices he made led to her death,” Campion said.
After Staulters made his apology, Scarano asked if he had anything to say about pre-sentencing probation department findings that he is an alcoholic and in denial about it.
“No sir,” Staulters said, adding after a long pause: “I’m in recovery.”
Outside the court, Rench said Staulters has acknowledged an alcohol problem and that he started treatment, but had to stop the treatment for financial reasons.
In addition to the state prison term, Scarano revoked Staulters’ driver’s license and ordered that an alcohol-sensing ignition lock device be installed on his vehicle for three years after his release.
In a released statement, District Attorney James A. Murphy III said the sentence was appropriate given current law, but he called for increasing the penalties for vehicular manslaughter.
“What the family and I hope is that the [state] Legislature will seriously consider enhancing the penalties for the crimes of vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter up to maximums of 5 to 15 or 8 to 25 years, depending upon the facts and circumstances,” he said.
View an earlier story, "Milton man admits to running down girl"