Dennis Drue sat gaunt and expressionless at his sentencing in Saratoga County Court Thursday as each successive victim impact statement cut a little bit deeper.
Bailey Wind, now an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Tennessee, called him a murderer for causing the crash that left her gravely injured and killed two of her friends.
Matt Hardy, now a senior at Shenendehowa High School, blamed Drue’s reckless drunken behavior for causing him injuries that persist today and his family’s never-ending nightmare.
To view the state police accident report, click HERE.
Brian Rivers, the father of Shen senior Deanna Rivers, described Drue as a remorseless “menace to society” and an “animal” who killed his 17-year-old daughter in cold blood.
And then Regina Stewart stepped up to the witness stand, setting down a palm-sized silver urn above a picture of her dead son, 17-year-old Chris Stewart, which faced Drue as she spoke.
“This is my son Christopher,” she said of the urn. “I carry him with me wherever I go.”
The grief-stricken mother spoke of Chris’ toothbrush that still sits by the sink in her home and his cologne that rests on his dresser, near the closet full of his clothes and school books, untouched since her son died in the violent Northway crash Drue caused on Dec. 1, 2012.
“I hope every time you pick up your toothbrush in your jail cell, you think of my son and my grief,” she said. “I hope it inspires you to do bigger and better things with your life, and I hope it gives you perspective to see things from someone else’s eyes.”
Drue, 23, was ordered to serve from five to 15 years in state prison for his guilty plea on a 58-count indictment, including the charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault. The prison term caught no one by surprise — Drue’s admission to all counts all but guaranteed that Judge Jerry Scarano would adhere to guidelines established in other similar pleas.
“I have an obligation to judge each case objectively and consider every factor in every case,” he said before handing down the sentence. “One of the factors is what sentence other defendants have received in this court and other courts throughout the state for committing similar crimes.”
Drue also spoke during his sentencing, and for the first time since the crash more than a year ago, he apologized. Facing a courtroom packed to capacity with the affected families and their friends — many wearing pins with pictures of the deceased teens — he spoke of how he thinks of Stewart, the captain of the Shenedehowa varsity football team, whenever he watches football and has a level of remorse that has physically affected him.
“I need you to know that not a day goes by where I don’t feel sorrow for the pain that I’ve caused,” Drue said. “I never meant to hurt anybody, and to be the enemy feels terrible.”
Family members of the dead teens and the survivors of the crash lambasted Drue with biting impact statements that carried on for more than an hour.
Wind, who suffered five broken vertebrae and had nearly a half-dozen teeth knocked out in the crash, spoke of how she never envisioned she’d have to spend half of her senior year living like an elderly woman. As she spoke to him, wearing Stewart’s Shen football jersey, she removed her mouth plate to show the gap in her teeth.
“I never thought I would have to use a commode or have my mom bathe me or dress me or use a walker and a wheelchair at the age of 17,” she told him. “But because of your bad choices, I did.”
Though speaking through sobs, Wind’s comments toward Drue were anything but meek. She ordered him to stop averting his eyes several times — enough that Scarano eventually advised her that she couldn’t direct Drue — and accused him of being drunk on the Siena College campus late last month, a statement that drew a stern objection from defense attorney Steven Coffey.
Hardy spoke of Stewart, his best friend and fellow football player, and how they were living the normal lives of teenagers until that fateful night last year. He recalled meeting Rivers while on the junior varsity basketball team and how their relationship budded up until the day she was killed in the crash.
“What did you do on Nov. 23?” he asked Drue. “I was at the cemetery. I was looking at the flowers, balloons and cards that others had left for Deanna’s birthday. The outpouring of grief was palpable, and you are responsible.”
Brian Rivers, whose family had publicly remained silent about his daughter’s death, blasted the justice system and Drue’s family for allowing him to slip through the cracks without serious penalty. Like others who spoke, he cited Drue’s lengthy record of moving violations, including 13 offenses for speeding, four at-fault accidents and a revocation of his license.
“Will Deanna ever get a second chance at life?” he asked. “No, she will not, and this is why enough is enough and this defendant needs to pay for his actions.”
Flanked by his wife, Deborah, Rivers also recalled how their daughter would dance in the family room, sing in the shower and light up a room with her smile. He spoke of the emptiness his family now feels and the senselessness of her death.
“You did not care when you took your keys and started your car that fateful night, consciously knowing you had a chance of hurting or, in this case, killing someone,” he said.
Chris Stewart’s father, Michael, also expressed outrage over Drue’s behavior on the evening of the crash. Even in the immediate aftermath, he said Drue seemed to care more about his wrecked car than the two teens lying dead nearby.
“What type of human being … causes this type of devastation to four families, classmates and an entire community and doesn’t have the pure decency at the time to ask about the condition of the people in the other vehicle?” he asked.
Regina Stewart and her surviving son Jeremy — Chris Stewart’s older brother — were the only ones to offer the hope of forgiveness to Drue. Jeremy Stewart said he’d like to meet Drue after he’s released from prison; his mother urged Drue to use his time incarcerated to improve himself so that he can play a beneficial role in the lives of his own two children, one of whom was born just weeks after the crash.
“I will never have the pleasure of holding Christopher’s kids in my arms, but yours are in front of you,” Regina Stewart said, “so focus your attention on them and not destructive behavior that pushes them away and embarrasses your whole family.”
Drue will now spend at least five years behind bars before he is eligible for parole. When he is eligible, his file will contain more than 200 letters sent urging the parole board to keep him behind bars.
A letter-writing campaign waged by Patricia Hardy, Matt Hardy’s mother, resulted in the correspondences being sent to the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office; many others were sent to Scarano directly.
Prosecutor James Murphy III said Drue will likely serve the bulk of his sentence. When Drue does come up for parole, Murphy said he’ll advocate keeping him behind bars for the full term.
“My office will take a very firm position that the defendant should not be released on parole,” he said during a news conference after the sentencing.