A Latham woman who was left paralyzed following a 2017 car crash in Halfmoon expressed relief Wednesday after the friend who was behind the wheel that night was taken away to state prison.
Deanna "Dee" Shapiro said she was relieved to see the end of what has been a painful and trying two-plus years since the crash on Sitterly Road. She spoke with the media after the driver, 55-year-old John Cole of Clifton Park, was escorted out of Saratoga County Court to begin a 7-year prison sentence.
"It's been so long,” said Shapiro, who was rendered quadriplegic. “It feels like it's been so long.”
Wednesday’s court appearance by Cole capped a lengthy process of court proceedings and appeals. Cole, the owner of a Capital Region chain of auto-collision shops, was tried in Saratoga County Court in early 2018 and convicted for the March 11, 2017, crash in Halfmoon following a two-week trial.
Cole was later sentenced by Saratoga County Court Judge James A. Murphy III to seven years in prison, the maximum sentence that could have been handed down. But Cole appealed and the case has dragged on for over a year.
According to trial testimony, on the night of the crash on Sitterly Road, Cole, his wife and several friends -- including Shapiro and her husband Scott -- had dinner at the Rusty Nail in Clifton Park before going to see a band play at Trick Shot Billiards and Sports Pub, also in Clifton Park.
Cole, who was driving a 2015 BMW 650i, was accused of accelerating the vehicle on Sitterly Road despite passengers urging him to slow down, leading to the vehicle going off the road and shearing a fire hydrant near an area where construction was going on. According to testimony, a state police investigation estimated his vehicle was traveling 78 mph in a 40 mph zone.
While Shapiro’s husband testified at the trial that Cole had been drinking alcohol through the evening, Cole's wife, Regina, testified that her husband "acted totally fine and was fine to drive" when they left Trick Shots. A state trooper testified that Cole appeared to be intoxicated, although he refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.
The case was also marred by what Murphy suggested to be a media campaign, orchestrated by Cole's company, Cole's Collision, meant to sway the outcome of his case.
That included working with a public relations firm and a handful of charities, which later distanced themselves from Cole, as well as multiple television spots, which were playing during the trial.
After the trial, Cole appealed his conviction and sentence to the Third Department Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany, but was rejected in a 4-0 ruling issued last week. He then sought permission to appeal again from the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
Based on the appellate court's unanimous ruling last week, Cole was required to seek permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals, but that was denied Tuesday.
Cole, who was represented by New York City attorney Paul Schechtman during the appeals process, was not given the opportunity to speak on Wednesday.
Speaking outside of the courthouse on Wednesday, Schechtman said that while Cole was disappointed with the outcome, he was now focused on moving forward.
"He's disappointed, obviously I'm disappointed, but what he cares about most now is getting this behind him and getting back to a family he loves and a business he wants to keep alive. That's all he's thinking about," he said.
He also hit back against continued insistence from the Shapiro family, both during the trial and after court on Wednesday, that Cole had never attempted to express his remorse to the family.
"You can't be involved in an incident like this, to have a woman who was a close friend paralyzed, and not be remorseful. I think the story that he's not remorseful is just false," Schechtman said.
But Deanna Shapiro, who said that the end of the case would give her the closure she needed to focus on healing and moving forward, said that the lack of an apology from a person she and her husband were friends with for two decades, and whom her children looked up to, would continue to hurt her and her family.
"I just wish there had been an apology," she said.