Waterford teen to serve 3 years in DUI crash
Editor's note: Corrects condition of James Butler.
Sarah F. Mader was weeks away from graduating from Waterford High School when she and four friends got together for a Senior Skip Day outing two years ago that scarred all of them for life.
Mader was an honor student who did volunteer work, was involved in church affairs and had been recognized for helping to wake up people when a massive nighttime fire broke out at a Norwich apartment complex.
But now, because she drank vodka and beer and smoked marijuana before she decided to drive her mother's Ford Crown Victoria over the Miner Lane railroad tracks at high speed, she is a 19-year-old convicted felon serving a three-year prison sentence.
At her sentencing in New London Superior Court Wednesday, Mader wept and said she wished the other four teens who were in the car with her on May 26, 2009, were present so that she could apologize directly. She said she wanted them to know she was sorry despite what court officials have said about her not taking the incident seriously. "I would do anything to take this back," she said. "I never meant to show them any unremorseful actions. I'm sorry, and I'm embarrassed."
Upon her release from the Janet S. York Correctional Institution, she will be on probation for five years. She will be unable to drive for the first year, and for two years after that will have to blow into an ignition interlock device to prove she is not drunk.
Mader had pleaded guilty in January to two counts of second-degree assault with a motor vehicle, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. She faced up to four years in prison, but Judge Patrick J. Clifford reduced the sentence by a year after listening to argument from Mader's attorney, Thomas W. Teixeira.
The judge said he took no pleasure in sending Mader to prison, but that there is a price to pay for her actions.
"You're not a criminal in the classic sense," Clifford said. "You did a horrible thing, and there's a price to pay. I have devastated victims, and I have a defendant who was like a loaded gun that day."
Prosecutor Christa L. Baker said the investigation showed that Mader accelerated the car to 80 to 100 mph before trying to jump the tracks and crashing off the right side of the roadway. Mader's parents said their own investigator determined she was driving about 40 mph.
Two of the victims provided statements to the probation department for a pre-sentencing investigation and the prosecutor's office has been in contact with the others.
"They all agreed Ms. Mader is a good person," Baker said. "This wasn't malicious. But they feel she is not taking the accident seriously. I think her parents have downplayed the seriousness. These victims will never be the same."
Two of the victims suffered injuries from which they may never fully recover. Nicole Littlefield, who was 17, was in a coma for 10 days after the accident and has undergone a long rehabilitation for a host of ailments, including a traumatic brain injury. She described her ordeal during the pre-sentencing investigation.
"At Gaylord (Rehabilitation Center) I went from an infant who could not feed herself - someone who could not walk, talk or go to the bathroom - to someone who could," Littlefield said.
Matthew Carlson, who was 15, also suffered a traumatic brain injury, a shattered pelvis and collapsed lung. His arm was broken in 10 places, and in the aftermath of the crash, doctors told his parents that Matthew might not survive.
Another passenger, Shane Boucher, 16 at the time, was released from Lawrence & Memorial Hospital three days after the accident. Passenger James Butler, also 16, was in the hospital for nine days and requires follow-up surgery, according to his mother, Paula Butler. Mader suffered a fractured pelvis and a broken clavicle and spent 10 days in the hospital.
As the driver, she was the only person charged by Waterford police, a fact that her attorney, father and therapist all mentioned when they addressed the court Wednesday. All three asked the judge to consider a suspended prison sentence for Mader, who was on an electronic monitor for four months after her arrest and has already spent 100 days in prison.
Though police said they had found a straw with cocaine residue in Mader's purse, it was actually Adderol, an amphetamine, that had been sold by another high school student, Teixeira said.
"If Sarah had simply crashed the car, and no one got hurt, this would be a different case," he said. "Yet the other ones in the car are the ones who gave Sarah the liquor and beer and the pot that led to their injuries."
Michael Mader said his daughter has been punished enough.
"We realize that Sarah made a serious mistake that day, and we realize she needs to be held accountable for her actions," he said. "But we also believe returning her to prison will do her no good."
The judge said that prison is "an automatic" in cases of this kind.
"I don't think the defendant is the scapegoat because the defendant is the driver," Clifford said. "The person who is driving better make sure to drive carefully. There may be a dispute about how fast this car was going, but at some point you did make the decision to drive faster than the speed limit and try to become airborne."
The judge ordered Mader to serve 100 hours of community service while on probation, including speaking at a local high school about the consequences of driving under the influence. He also ordered her to attend a victim impact panel and said she would have an ignition interlock device installed in any car she drives for two years.
Clifford said that despite the publicity given to driving under the influence, "Nobody thinks this is going to happen to them." He said there has been a change in attitude about the issue in recent years, with stepped up law enforcement and vigorous prosecutions.
"It's certainly serious criminal behavior, and a message has to get out," he said.