Saratoga County

‘Sorry’ expressed as teen sentenced in fatal January crash (with video)

Melody Scaia’s anger at her daughter’s killer couldn’t stop her from giving him a hug and words of e

Melody Scaia’s anger at her daughter’s killer couldn’t stop her from giving him a hug and words of encouragement minutes before he was sentenced on Friday in Saratoga County Court to at least 11⁄3 years in state prison.

“I just felt like a mother and I wanted to protect him,” explained Scaia about her embrace of 18-year-old Brian Vecchio of Ballston after she shared her grief at the loss of her daughter. “I told him to keep his chin up and that I would be here for him if he needed to talk to me, and that I knew he was sorry and I was sorry.”

Vecchio previously pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the Jan. 7 accident on Barkersville Road in the town of Providence in which he crashed his truck into a utility pole, killing his passenger, 17-year-old Ballston Spa High School junior Noelle Johnsen. He was charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, initially but more serious charges, including second-degree manslaughter, were added when the truck’s “black box” revealed that he had been driving 98 miles per hour as he tried to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone.

Police do not believe drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.

The small courtroom in Ballston Spa was packed with almost 30 people, mostly friends and family of Johnsen and Vecchio, who wanted to be present for the sentence handed down by County Court Judge Jerry Scarano.

It was anticipated that Scarano would impose a sentence of 11⁄3 years to four years in a state prison, with the possibility of granting Vecchio youthful offender status that would have allowed him to state on future job and college applications that he had not been convicted of a crime. Scarano rejected the contention from Vecchio’s lawyer that this was an adolescent mistake and went with the expected sentence, but did not grant youthful offender status.

Before Vecchio was taken into custody, Scarano said as a father and grandfather he couldn’t imagine going through this experience and wished Vecchio good luck.

Prior to the sentencing, Scaia took the stand wearing her daughter’s necklace and talked about her loss. She lamented that she will never be called “mom” again and that her daughter, whom she described as her “one true constant … and one true friend” will never graduate from high school, blow out birthday candles when she turns 18, go to college or get married.

“Her possibilities were endless,” Scaia said calmly from the witness stand as some members of the audience could be heard crying.

“I will never recover,” she added. “I cannot honestly say that I forgive you right now at this very moment, but I will not hold a grudge, Brian.”

After the sentencing, which Scaia said was appropriate because it would give Vecchio a chance for a life in the future, she had room in her heart for forgiveness, saying it was what her daughter would have wanted. She said that as a New Year’s resolution Johnsen had begun to make amends with people in her life, which was the reason for her encounter in January with Vecchio. The two had become estranged.

Her daughter didn’t hold grudges and Scaia said she believed she was looking down with approval at her mother’s forgiving attitude on Friday.

“I am angry, but I forgive him. … He is a kid. He made a bad choice and that’s it,” she said.

The idea that Vecchio made a childish mistake was also suggested by his public defender lawyer, Joseph Hammer, as he argued for youthful offender status for Vecchio. “Like many adolescents, he made a mistake,” Hammer said, adding that poor road conditions also contributed to the accident.

For his part, Vecchio said that he wanted to talk to students in the future about the dangers of reckless driving and that he had already created a powerpoint presentation for that purpose.

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