Man Gets 5 to 15 Years For Fatal DWI Crash
Allison Blaisdell,7, listens in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Dec. 19, 2013. Next to her is her aunt Sandra Clough, at right is Luke Garlinger. Allison's mother was killed in a head-on collision in April. Garlinger, a 30-year-old Massachusetts man, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison following the high-speed crash that killed Shellie Blaisdell.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Luke Garlinger, a 30-year-old Massachusetts man, reads a statement in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, N.H. Garlinger was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison following a high-speed, head-on collision in Claremont that killed a Vermont woman and injured her stepson.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Bill Snide wipes a tear away in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport, N.H., on Dec. 19, 2013. Snide's daughter-in-law was killed in a head-on collision in April. Luke Garlinger, a 30-year-old Massachusetts, man was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison following the high-speed crash killed Shellie Blaisdell.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Newport — A Massachusetts man tearfully apologized on Thursday to the family of a Windsor woman who died in a drunk driving accident he caused last April in Claremont.
At an emotional hearing in Sullivan Superior Court, Luke Garlinger, 30, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in state prison under a plea agreement negotiated with Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway.
Garlinger pleaded guilty last month to a charge of negligent homicide — driving while intoxicated.
Police said Garlinger’s pickup truck was traveling about 80 mph when it crossed the center line on Main Street near the Tractor Supply store early on the morning of April 7, and collided head on with Shellie Blaisdell’s Pontiac van.
Blaisdell died from her injuries at Valley Regional Hospital and her 14 year old stepson, Lakota, suffered two broken arms.
Garlinger, dressed in a dark suit and tie, stood and faced the family of Blaisdell to read his apology.
“I am truly sorry,” he said. “I apologize for causing the death of Shellie Blaisdell.
“I was reckless and irresponsible.”
As he continued to struggle with his words through tears, Garlinger said he would have to live with his actions that night the rest of his life.
“My heart goes out to those who didn’t get to say good-bye to Mrs. Blaisdell.”
Outside the courtroom, moments after the hearing ended, Garlinger’s wife, Danielle, who was there with other family members, was crying as she repeatedly told Blaisdell’s widower, Ralph, how sorry she was for the accident and the pain it has caused.
In his impact statement to the court, Blaisdell’s words revealed a mixture of anger and pain but mostly love, for his wife and her kindness. He said he thought the sentence was too lenient — preferring life behind bars — but then thought of how his wife would have wanted to show Garlinger’s family compassion.
“As I have sat and watched this all unfold, I have constantly had a little voice, Shellie’s voice, in my ear reminding me to minimize the damage, minize the fallout,” Blaisdell said, as his son, brother and sister-in-law and other family members looked on, some wiping away tears. “She constantly reminds me that there are other victims to consider. His young children who had no part in their father’s ignorance and that must always weigh on my thinking as I am human and by nature, kind.
“Shellie can never be returned to us. However, this does not mean that his children should have to suffer the same loss as mine to find justice.”
Garlinger, according to a statement from his attorney, Richard Guerriero, has two children ages 6 and 9.
Though his words clearly showed anger toward Garlinger, Blaisdell mostly spoke of his wife’s kind, loving and generous nature that never deserted her even during tough times such as a breast cancer diagnosis a couple of years ago. He called her his “loving wife, best friend and partner through years of triumph and loss and sickness and death.
“There wasn’t anything Shellie and I couldn’t handle together.”
Blaisdell said the toughest part is watching his children, including Lakota, 14, who was with Blaisdell that night and suffered broken arms, and Allison, 7, try to go on without their mother.
“Shellie was a stay-at-home mom who devoted herself to the happiness and well-being of her children and other’s children that she came in contact with,” Blaisdell said. “Allison went to bed the night of the accident with a loving mom tucking her in and kissing her goodnight and awoke to a whole new scary world without her mommy.”
Blaisdell traveled to Claremont that night to drop off her niece who had a toothache and wanted to be home with her dad. It “was the last act of kindness that Shellie ever got to perform and she performed many throughout our years together.”
Blaisdell read the eulogy he gave at his wife’s funeral, recalling her love for her children and life despite many years of poverty and sickness.
“There was nothing that made her happier than when she was sharing time and love with one of her children, whether a phone call or extended visit.”
Also speaking was Blaisdell’s sister-in-law. Sandra Clough, who said it has been tough trying to move past her anger toward Garlinger because his “stupidity” was “completely preventable.”
“It is hard losing people we love, it’s excruciating watching the pain of those around you and being able to do absolutely nothing, it’s infuriating when it is senseless and preventable, but for the choice made by one man, the choice to drive drunk,” Clough said. “I’m not sure the defendant will ever understand what he took from us. Shellie had a unique, quirky, and utterly innocent way of seeing the world and those of us fortunate enough to find ourselves admitted to her circle were far more than lucky, we were blessed.”
Clough called her sister-in-law “a gatherer of people. If someone was in need, her shoulder was always there for a good cry. I hope someday I can be more like Shellie.
In recommending Judge Tucker accept the proposed sentence, Hathaway said it struck the appropriate balance between the consequences of Garlinger’s action and the punishment.
His attorney, Guerriero, said he and his client agreed with the county attorney calling it “a struggle” to find the right punishment for someone who has caused so much pain for one family while also recognizing that Garlinger is young and has been a good father and husband.
In a memorandum to the court on the sentencing, Guerriero said his client has never contested the charges and “accepted responsibility for his crimes and for the death and irreparable harm he caused.”
Garlinger, a licensed electrician, was visiting his uncle in Claremont on the night of the accident. Guerriero noted he had no prior felony record and has never been incarcerated but did have a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol when he was 19 in Massachusetts.
If he remains on good behavior for the first four years of his sentence, Garlinger, who paid $1,400 in restitution to Blaisdell in court, may be eligible for the Sullivan County TRAILS (Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills). Garlinger said he would work hard on overcoming his problem with alcohol.
“I owe it to the people I have hurt so badly,” he said in his statement.
Ralph Blaisdell also appealed to Judge Tucker to accept the recommended sentence.
Don’t show him favors or special consideration, he said, “but do remember and consider all the victims of this heinous and avoidable crime and allow us to all move forward and heal.”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org