CLIFTON PARK -- "The world looks different now. Sometimes I think that happiness is over for me," Claudia Holtzman said through tears on Thursday to Dickie Winn, the man who pleaded guilty to causing a car crash that left her daughter and her daughter's husband dead, and their three friends seriously injured.
Winn, 59, of Cohoes, was sentenced to 6 1/3 to 19 years in state prison in Saratoga County Court by Judge James Murphy after pleading guilty to one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a felony that takes into account the deaths of both people killed.
On May 25, Winn, who was driving drunk -- his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit -- crossed an intersection on Route 9 in town in his truck and slammed into the car driven by John Heneghan, 33. Heneghan and his wife Caitlyn Holtzman, 32, both of New York City, were killed.
Thursday's sentencing was the first opportunity the victims' friends and family members, who packed the courtroom, had to directly address Winn. Their testimonies lasted over an hour, many of the speakers struggling to get through their prepared remarks.
Claudia Holtzman gives victim impact statement during sentencing of Dickie Winn for his role in the alcohol-fueled May 25 crash that killed John Heneghan and Caitlin Holtzman pic.twitter.com/0M2ZPaLgiU— Erica Miller (@EricaPhotog) November 21, 2019
Maire O'Reilly, the elder sister of Heneghan, took the stand first and forcefully condemned the use of the word "accident" being used to describe the incident.
"John and Caitlyn did not die in an accident. We did not lose a brother and a son. He was taken from us," she said, calling the crash not a mistake, but an "avoidable tragedy."
O'Reilly described her brother as a light in the lives of many, and a person who always had a joke or a story to tell, or a word of friendly advice to give. The crash, she said, stole from her family the opportunity to have many more of those experiences, and to hear more of those stories from her brother.
"And now there are no more. No more of anything, ever," she said.
Winn's guilty plea, she added, did nothing to alleviate the family's pain.
"We have no warm words of compassion for Mr. Winn," she said, ending her testimony.
Next were Julia Staples, 24, and Luke O'Doherty, 25, both of New York City, two of the three victims who were left injured by the crash.
The two of them detailed the dark void the accident had pushed them into, primarily caused by the deaths of their close friends, but compounded by piles of medical bills, grievous injuries and an uncertainty over whether they would be able to live a normal life again.
They are only now beginning to pull themselves out of that hole, they said.
Staples, who said she continues to attend physical therapy for her injuries and only recently was able to remaster skills like holding a fork to eat and getting in and out of bed, told the court that the situation was "incredibly preventable."
"I can't begin to understand the impact," she said to Winn. "I see this as a deeply selfish crime."
O'Doherty, who had to relearn how to walk after the crash, said his memories jump from enjoying his time with his friends to being dragged out of the wreckage of Heneghan's car.
"We shouldn't feel lucky to be alive. This shouldn't have happened," he said.
Holtzman's parents, who both gave lengthy and tearful testimonies condemning Winn for taking their only daughter, and by extension, their chance for a future with grandchildren from them, announced that since their daughter had been killed they had raised $13,000 for the non-profit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Claudia Holtzman though, speaking to Winn directly, told him that she wasn't interested in taking revenge. Rather, she said, she implored him to be open and honest about his crime in the hopes that her daughter's death might keep a similar situation from happening to someone else.
"Can I forgive you? I think I can, and I think God can,"she said.
"I saw the world more fully through her eyes," Donald Holtzman said, remembering times with his daughter that he cherished. "I never go more than a minute or two without thinking about my Cait ... I miss her so."
Winn did not make any statements in court on Thursday, but frequently nodded his head during the long testimonies.
Murphy, after hearing all of the statements, addressed the family and friends of Holtzman and Heneghan directly and told them that while the justice system would be able to hold Winn responsible for his crimes, it was not equipped to eliminate their grief.
"Nothing I say will ever bring back your daughter, Caitlyn, or John," he said to their parents.
Turning to Winn, Murphy noted that while he believed him to be remorseful, his actions were criminal and irreversible and his sentence, at the very least, was fitting. Winn will also have to pay a restitution of $3,376 in medical bills.
"You need to serve as much of that sentence as is possible. There is no excuse for this conduct," Murphy said. "You drove drunk on that day and killed two people."