Drunken Driving Guilty Plea; Fatal Woodstock Crash Killed Driver’s Best Friend
Dave Ferrero, father of Jonathan Ferrero, shakes hands with Justin Pierce following Pierce's sentencing in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on March 27, 2014. Pierce pleaded guilty to charges resulting fom the August 2013 car crash that killed his best friend, Jonathan Fererro.
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Lisa and Jesse Pierce cry during their son Justin Pierce's sentencing in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on March 27, 2014.
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White River Junction — A 22-year-old Woodstock man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months of home confinement and indefinite probation Thursday in connection with a drunken driving crash last summer that killed his best friend.
Justin Pierce was at the wheel when his pickup truck flipped over a guardrail and hit a tree on Fletcher Hill Road in Woodstock, killing Jonathan Ferrero, 22.
Thursday’s sentencing in Windsor Superior Court on the felony charge of driving under the influence resulting in a fatality, followed a statement read aloud by Ferrero’s father, who appealed to the judge for leniency.
“We really, truly believe there’s no rancor here,” David Ferrero told Judge Karen Carroll. “We just wish everything could be back to normal, but it can’t be. But we do ask you to please, please treat (Pierce) as kindly as you can.”
In a plea deal struck with prosecutors, Pierce was sentenced to two to eight years in prison, with all but 180 days suspended. He received credit for 30 days already voluntarily served since early February, and the remaining 150 days will be spent in home confinement with his parents in Woodstock. He will be allowed to travel to and from work.
A second charge, of gross negligent operation resulting in a fatality, was dismissed. Each felony charge carried a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment.
Prosecutor David Cahill said the state had to balance the desires of Ferrero’s parents, who have said for months that they are against punitive measures for Pierce, and concerns raised by other community members, who said Pierce could have killed more innocent people while driving drunk and that 30 days in jail was a “slap on the wrist.”
“The state has attempted in making this offer … to strike a fair balance,” Cahill said in court.
Included in the terms of Pierce’s sentence are a ban on buying, possessing or consuming alcohol. He has also agreed to participate in educational community service, in which he’ll talk to young people about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Authorities have said Pierce and Ferrero had several beers last August after winning a championship baseball game in Walpole, N.H., before getting into a pickup truck driven by Pierce with Ferrero in the passenger seat.
Pierce’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit and he was driving too fast on Fletcher Hill Road in Woodstock when he failed to negotiate a turn, sending the car over the guardrail and into a tree, police said. It came to rest on the driver side in a stream.
David Ferrero said his son was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Had he been, he might be alive but in trouble like Pierce, he said.
Pierce took the unusual step of not paying the $100 bail set by the court in early February. By doing so, he was able to begin serving time immediately.
In court on Thursday, Pierce spoke softly of his deep friendship with Ferrero and the activities that he’ll miss doing with him. Overcome by emotion, he sometimes became inaudible.
The young men had been close since they were 3 and 4 years old, when Pierce started attending Ferrero’s mother’s day care, through their graduation from Woodstock Union High School in 2010. They worked together as stonemasons, talked every day, and enjoyed activities such as playing sports and fishing together, Pierce said in court. Ferrero was engaged to be married to Pierce’s sister.
“Just, I’m so very sorry to everyone,” Pierce said toward the end of his statement.
During the hearing, Pierce’s parents sat quietly in the galley next to David Ferrero. Pierce’s mother, Lisa, sometimes dabbed at tears. The family declined comment after the hearing.
Pierce’s lawyer, Christopher Dall, reiterated to the court that Pierce is devastated by Ferrero’s death, saying people considered them to be brothers.
“I don’t know if this court can impose any worse punishment on him than he’s already going through, and what he’s going to be going through for the rest of his life,” Dall said. “For Mr. Pierce, the No. 1 friend from that time period is gone, and he’s not coming back.”
Carroll said such a sentiment is not true in every case. In this case, however, she believed it was true. She said she considered young people driving after using substances to be a serious public health problem and expressed hope that Pierce could effectively raise awareness about the issues among the high school students he will speak to.
Carroll told David Ferrero she admired the way he and his family, despite being “harmed and emotionally damaged by this,” were able to “look through (their) own pain,” “see the end result” and “look out for the well-being of another person.”
Ferrero thanked the judge.
“My son would have done the same,” he said.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.