It was unusual that Carol Casale and her 66-year-old mother Carol Lansing would cross paths on a Wednesday morning, but they did that day, Casale recalled Friday.
Casale happened to be up early when her mother, preparing for her Wednesday morning outing with her walking group, entered the kitchen. “She looked beautiful,” Casale recalled in Albany County Court Friday morning, noting her mother had her makeup done and name tag on.
“As she left, I told her I loved her and I remember getting a lump in my throat, as if I was going to cry.”
Casale spoke Friday morning at the sentencing of 55-year-old LuAnn Burgess, the woman who later that morning struck and killed Green Island resident Lansing and two other walkers: Fran Pallozzi, 81, and Rosemarie Hume, 79, both of Waterford.
Burgess pleaded guilty earlier to three counts of criminally negligent homicide, felonies, in connection with the Aug. 11, 2011 crash in Voorheesville.
She was sentenced Friday to time served, five years of probation and 600 hours of community service. She also agreed never to drive a car again. She had faced up to six months in jail as part of a plea deal.
Representatives of each of the victims gave statements to the court. Copies of the written statements were provided later by the district attorney’s office.
The three women, members of the Empire State Capital Volkssporters, were killed when they were struck by Burgess’ SUV as Burgess was trying to dislodge her oversized flip-flop from near the gas pedal. The SUV careened down Mountainview Street in Voorheesville around 8:45 a.m. that day, striking the women as they gathered by St. Matthew’s Church for their walk through the village.
Burgess’ distraction — coupled with the vehicle’s speed and a number of prescription drugs that were in her system — resulted in the Toyota veering off the road and hitting the women, authorities said. Toxicology tests later showed Burgess had Xanax, Wellbutrin and Serequol in her system. Each can cause a level of drowsiness that can affect a person’s ability to drive. An investigation centered around Burgess’ toxicology and the prescription drugs the motorist was apparently taking for symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease.
A remorseful Burgess appeared in court with her attorneys, Larry Rosen and Cheryl Coleman.
Burgess gave a statement of her own, expressing how she’s been haunted with the knowledge that she had taken three mothers and grandmothers from their families, Coleman recalled, and how she would continue to pray for them. Coleman recalled having to hold Burgess’ hand, due to both Burgess’ medical condition and emotional condition.
“Nobody’s doing a happy dance today,” Coleman said.
In a news release, Albany County District Attorney David Soares commended the families of the victims for their strength and courage.
“When tragedies like this occur, no one ever wants to accept any part of the responsibility; however, I want to remind everyone that we all have a collective responsibility to prevent anything like this from happening again,” Soares said in the statement.
Soares cited the doctors prescribing the medications, the patients taking the medications and friends and families of those taking the medications, saying all have their part in realizing the risk of the medications.
“I hope everyone will stop and think about their safety and the safety of others as they take their medications tomorrow morning,” Soares said in the statement. “You can prevent these tragedies in the future.”
Speaking on behalf of Fran Pallozzi was her daughter Tess, who recalled collapsing on her New Mexico kitchen floor when she heard the news.
“I need you to understand that my mother was the heart of our family,” Pallozzi said. “She was my father’s wife of 59 years, his companion and caretaker.”
“I miss her voice and laughter,” Pallozzi said a short time later, “and I miss her hugs when we would say goodbye at the airport.”
Pallozzi said she has spent time since the accident thinking long and hard about the judicial system and medical field, disheartened that laws have not kept up with demands from the medical field. Doctors, she said, should have a stronger urgency to start the process of taking away a driver’s license and recognize that drugs they prescribe could cause lapses of consciousness.
Pallozzi, who with the other family members spoke before Burgess, also said she had yet to hear an apology.
Speaking for Rosemary Hume was a daughter, whose name was not provided. She recalled her mother not planning on walking with the group that morning, but changing her mind. The death of her mother was “a devastating and life-altering event, at the very least,” she said. She called her father “an amazing source of strength and love, as our mother was.”
The subject of Burgess’ fate is a difficult one for the family, Hume’s daughter said. Her own opinion, though, is that Burgess has suffered, as well.
“In my view, this was an awful, tragic accident and I have to forgive Ms. Burgess in order to move on,” the daughter said. “As the outcome of the sentencing is up to each and every person involved, it is necessary to leave that up to the justice system.”
Lansing’s daughter Carol Casale, in her comments, went on to talk about hearing of the accident, then the realization that a police officer was at their door, then the pain and sleepless nights that have endured.
She then turned her thoughts to Burgess’ sentencing. No good, Casale said, would come from putting Burgess in jail.
“As you can see, it would be so easy for me to be angry and want to place blame on someone,” Casale said. “But my mother didn’t raise me that way.”