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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Tragedy and travesty

    The lost lives of two innocent victims of vehicular negligence seem not to have had much value to those in this state who should be protecting them.

    Michelle McMullen, 52, of Norwich, a healthcare assistant for Hartford Healthcare, had just left Hartford Healthcare's Mystic facility off Jerry Brown Road when her life was brought to an abrupt and violent end on nearby Coogan Boulevard at 12:30 p.m., on April 22, 2021. Michelle was a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and companion, a woman who after working in retail for years, enrolled in business school to become a medical assistant.

    Ryan Brown, 19, was texting and smoking marijuana around the time he crossed the center line and drove his car head-on into Michelle's vehicle, killing her. He was sentenced this summer to one year in prison and five years of probation. Additionally, he was ordered to make $500 charitable contributions for each of those five years and write a letter of apology to the victim's family. None of that, however, will bring back the life that was cut short by his negligence.

    Brown, who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter earlier this summer, faced between one and 10 years of prison. An agreement between his legal team and state prosecutors will have him serving a relatively light sentence of one year, likely with time off for good behavior. He took responsibility for his action, will apologize to Michelle's family and spend less than a year of his young life behind bars after he ended hers. This is justice?

    A blood test of Brown after the accident revealed THC, the marijuana ingredient that makes users high. There was enough THC in Brown's system to cause what some states' laws would consider impairment. In their zeal to legalize marijuana in 2021 for the tax revenue it would provide, Connecticut's lawmakers didn't adopt an impairment level. It is revealing that public safety in this state apparently isn't as important as filling its coffers. And doesn't it make you feel safer on our roads knowing that pot is legal in Connecticut now? Actually, at the time of the accident, it was illegal to possess marijuana in the state, and even if the accident had occurred after legalization went into effect, the new law applies only to adults 21 and older.

    If you think that's bad, though, consider the case of Ashley Ferguson Jones, who had stopped on the side of Interstate 95's southbound lanes in Old Lyme on Dec. 1, 2016, to check on her coughing infant daughter in the back seat of her car. While Ashley was leaning into the car from the left side, Nicolae Marcu of New Hampshire crashed his tractor trailer into the small car, killing the 31-year-old mother instantly.

    In May, Marcu pled guilty to a felony charge of misconduct with a motor vehicle. New London Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy, who presided over the case, said "there is no other explanation for what happened here other than criminal negligence on the part of the defendant." Murphy said Marcu had a clear and unobstructed view of the victim and her car "yet takes no action whatsoever to avoid hitting her."

    After waiting more than six years for resolution in the criminal case, Ashley's mother, Lisa Ferguson said after Marcu's conviction in May that she was "just so happy justice is finally here for Ashley," her only daughter.

    At Marcu's sentencing, however, Lisa's happiness turned to rage.

    Marcu had no criminal record and was not speeding, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or using his cell phone at the time of the accident, so ... Judge Murphy sentenced him to five years probation and no prison time for taking the life of a 31-year-old wife, daughter and mother of two young children. In handing down the light sentence, Judge Murphy went along with a sentencing report prepared by the Probation Department. Prosecutors had sought some prison time.

    "Are you (expletive) kidding me?" the victim's distraught mother yelled at the judge. "Justice not served."

    Marcu's defense attorney, Michael Miller, said "Any jail time would devastate him (Marcu) and his family." Perhaps, but not nearly as much as this episode has devastated Ashley's family.

    It took nearly seven years to adjudicate this case, which brings to mind the old judicial adage that justice delayed is justice denied. That Marcu will not serve a single day behind bars after his negligence killed a young woman goes beyond justice denied.

    Travesty is the term that comes to mind.

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