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Driver gets 1-3 yr. term/He is paralysed

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    Driver gets 1-3 yr. term/He is paralysed

    Driver gets 1-3 yr. term

    By: RICHARD ROTH October 04, 2002

    HUDSON--Kristopher Goodrich must spend one to three years in prison for his role in the death of his friend Sean French on January 1, 2002.
    He pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide August 16 and was sentenced Wednesday morning, October 2.
    Mr. Goodrich was found to have been under the influence of alcohol when the car he was driving went off a curve on Route 203 in the Town of Chatham. Mr. French and another passenger, Ian Moore, were thrown from the car.
    Mr. French was killed. Although he survived the crash, Mr. Moore is confined to a wheelchair with paralysis brought on by a back injury.
    Assistant District Attorney Michael Cozzolino opened the proceedings by saying there was no need for a review of the facts of the case and that the prosecution was asking for a maximum sentence of three years and a minimum of one year.
    Then Mark French, the father of Sean French, was allowed to address the court. He began by saying he found it impossible to describe "how deeply and profoundly this crime has impacted my family... All our dreams and Sean's dreams were smothered."
    Sean French had run cross-country at Chatham High School and Mr. French produced a sheaf of letters from college recruiters offering his son track-and-field scholarships at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and at least a dozen other schools.
    He went on to applaud the state legislature for passing Sean's Law, which he called the "fastest drunk driver legislation ever passed." The legislation, signed into law by Governor George Pataki at Chatham High School Friday, September 27, allows judges to immediately suspend a junior driver's license or a learner's permit upon the driver's first court appearance on a DWI/DWAI charge.
    Mr. Goodrich had been charged with DWAI less than three weeks before the fatal accident just after midnight New Year's Day.
    Columbia County has twice the state average of teenage DWI, according to Mr. French. He said he believed "Sean would want the judge to impose a sentence that would help teens understand the seriousness of the crime."
    Ian Moore's mother was next to address the court. She said her son, who was an outstanding athlete and is now confined to a wheelchair, "curses his life" as a result of his injuries.
    In addition to the spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed, she said, Mr. Moore has ongoing problems with blood clots, urinary tract infections, and deterioration of the heart. "He can't sleep at night," said his mother.
    She said the family's medical expenses have been "astronomical" and that there were additional expenses for remodeling the family home to accommodate her son's wheelchair. There has also an element of frustration in dealing with insurance companies: for example, they refused to pay for a type of wheelchair that would have allowed her son to participate in sports.
    She said Mr. Goodrich deserved to be sentenced to a prison term: "He must learn to respect our laws."
    Mr. Goodrich was represented by Kinderhook attorney Richard Mott. While Mr. Mott's plea for youthful offender status was granted by County Judge John G. Leaman, his urgent request that his client be sentenced to a term in the county jail followed by five years' probation was denied.
    Youthful offender status means there will be no permanent record of the conviction. Mr. Goodrich can be confined to any prison selected by the state Department of Corrections nonetheless.
    It was this aspect of the sentencing that Mr. Mott called "inappropriate."
    "We know what prisons are like for young, vulnerable people," Mr. Mott told the court. If his client were sentenced to "a modicum of local incarceration" and five years probation with strict requirements for counseling and community service, on the other hand, he could "do the most good for the most people."
    "Kristopher makes no excuses," said Mr. Mott, "but there's something he can do. He can make a difference by dissuading people from their anti-social behaviors."
    Mr. Mott said he had gone through the Chatham High School yearbook and was "appalled... at all the quotes, all the nicknames, pet peeves, accomplishments that were double entendres."
    All tolled, he said, 31 of 98 students in this year's senior class made a total of 57 references to "vulgarity, drugs, alcohol, and reckless driving" in their autobiographical sketches.
    Describing Mr. Goodrich as "no pariah" at the school, he said he could provide an important service by trying to change the culture of the school and by alerting his peers to the consequences of his own choices.
    "He wants to change his life and become a model for the community," said Mr. Mott. "Isn't that what rehabilitation is really all about?"
    Mr. Goodrich began his own pre-sentencing statement by turning to the parents of Sean French and Ian Moore and saying, "I would like you to know that I'm truly sorry for what I've done and I'd do anything to have your forgiveness."
    "There's no one to blame other than myself," he told the judge. "Not a day goes by when I don't think about Sean, Patrick and Ian. [Patrick DiCosimo was the fourth passenger in the car; like Mr. Goodrich, he escaped serious injury.] I realize they may not want anything to do with me."
    He said he has applied to a rehabilitation center in Syracuse and to Columbia-Greene Community College, and that he is getting counseling from the Twin Counties Substance Abuse Center and from a psychologist in Delmar.
    In addition, he said, "I would be willing to go to local schools and talk about what I've done and the grief I've caused others."
    Before imposing the sentence of "not less than one nor more than three years," Judge Leaman said he disagreed that Mr. Goodrich could serve to warn his peers only through a sentence of probation.
    "He should be impelled by himself to do that," he said. "He can leave [prison] on furlough for up to 14 hours for an eligible and worthwhile purpose."
    The judge also suggested that Mr. Goodrich would be eligible for "shock incarceration," where six months of intense physical training and discipline--commonly known as boot camp--is substituted for hard prison time.
    But Mr. Mott disagreed.
    "Contrary to what the judge said he's ineligible for shock incarceration," said Mr. Mott. "I'm sure he'll be in with real criminals, potentially exposed to the predatory characters found in prison."
    Mr. Goodrich will be eligible for parole after one year, Mr. Mott said, "but they don't have to give him parole until after two years."
    Following the sentencing, District Attorney Beth Cozzolino said Mr. Goodrich had told her office where the boys obtained the alcohol on the night of the accident and that she will bring charges as soon as the investigation is complete.

    ©The Independent 2002

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