NASHUA - One of Holly Dustin-Shantz' brothers believes that sending the woman who killed her to prison would do more harm than good.
He ought to know; he's there himself.
Another brother believes that Jennifer Shea's sentence - 2-1/2 to 10 years in prison, with release on electronic monitoring after 18 months - doesn't fit the crime. He himself served as much time in prison for driving while intoxicated and other vehicular offenses, though he didn't hurt anyone, he said.
Tears and forgiveness flowed freely as Shea, 24, of Derry, was sentenced Monday for the crash that killed Dustin-Shantz, 39, of Nashua.
Shea admitted she had been drinking heavily before she crashed her sports utility vehicle into the side of a semi-truck at the intersection of Amherst Street and the Henri Burque Highway on the night of Nov. 4, 2006. Shantz, riding in the front passenger seat, was killed, and Shea and another passenger were injured.
Shea pleaded guilty in June to charges of negligent homicide and aggravated DWI and was sentenced Monday afternoon in Hillsborough County Superior Court. She was sentenced to 2-1/2 to 10 years in prison but will be eligible for release with electronic monitoring in about 18 months, Judge William Groff ruled.
Another 3-1/2 to seven year consecutive sentence will remain suspended for five years from Monday, so long as Shea stays out of further trouble.
Shea has already completed two substance abuse treatment programs, her lawyer, Philip Utter said, and she will be required to continue with counseling. She also will lose her license for at least seven years.
Shea's license had been suspended the day before the fatal crash as a result of a reckless driving case in Londonderry.
"I can not express how sorry I am to Holly and her family. Holly was an amazing person," Shea said before she was sentenced, her voice choked up and quavering. "It devastates me to know that I took a life . . . No amount of jail time could ever erase my memories of that night . . . I would give everything in the world to erase the pain that Holly's family feels."
Dustin-Shantz' daughter, Cali Shantz, addressed Shea directly before she was sentenced and said something seldom heard under the circumstances.
"I'm so sorry," she said, repeating it several times. "I forgive you. I don't blame you at all."
After the hearing, Cali Shantz added that while she grieves her mother's loss and had mixed feelings about the leniency of Shea's sentence, she truly hopes Shea will learn from her mistake and feels compassion for Shea and her young daughter.
"Holly loved Cali more than a mother could love any baby," a friend of Dustin-Shantz, Teri Metzemaekers said during the hearing. She was the sunshine of her life. The sun rose and set on Cali."
Besides being a devoted mother, Dustin-Shantz was a gifted singer and beloved friend of many, Metzemaekers said.
"When Holly walked into a room, it lit up," she said. "I can't tell you how many people were drawn to her . . . Holly had a lot of friends, a lot of friends for a long time."
While Cali Shantz spoke, Kathi Dustin stood with her. Dustin also read a statement written by her husband, Chad Dustin, Dustin-Shantz' brother who is currently imprisoned on vehicular charges. Speaking by phone after the sentencing, Chad Dustin explained that he didn't believe sending Shea to prison would do anyone any good.
"Because of her actions, we were robbed of a very special person," he said, however, "being hateful is not going to bring Holly back."
"I didn't want to see Ms. Shea do any time," he said. "Of course I'm devastated. I was completely devastated" by his sister's death, he said. That said, he noted that any adult should know better than to get in a car with a drunk driver.
"They all made choices," he said.
Another brother, Todd Dustin, disagreed. Speaking in court at Shea's sentencing, he said he himself had served 2-1/2 years in prison for vehicular offenses, though he never killed anyone.
"Where is the justice in that?" he asked, adding later, "I hope that Ms. Shea realizes the loss and devastation she has caused to my family."
Shea's mother, Christine Meyer, said her daughter was ready to pay the consequences for her actions, but that there is much more to Shea than her choices on that night.
"We all realize that Jennifer made a tragic mistake . . . Our heart goes out to Holly and her family," Meyer said. "This afternoon does not reflect who my daughter is. She is a kind and caring person. She's a great mom. She made a tragic mistake, and I hope that someday she can forgive herself."
In sentencing Shea, Judge William Groff more or less split the difference between the recommendations of her lawyer, Philip Utter, who argued for less, and the prosecutor, Assistant County Attorney Kent Smith, who recommended more.
"I don't need to tell you," Groff said addressing Shea, "it is a tragic case for you and your family, as well as being a tragedy for Holly and Holly's family."
"I don't think I could characterize you in any way as a bad person . . . but your conduct in this matter, your irresponsibility, your criminal negligence has caused the death of your friend," Groff said.
"All of us who are parents . . . know but there but for the grace of God go we," Groff said.
"It may not have happened to us, but we all dread the fact that some day it could."
Groff said he hoped Shea's sentence would make others think twice before they drive, or imbibe.
"Driving while under the influence can never be excused or condoned, and we must somehow stop the carnage on our highways," he said.
In addition to the tragedy of Dustin-Shantz' death, Shea's arrest and her previous reckless driving case drew attention and controversy because of her close, personal relationship with a Nashua police officer, who met and spoke with Shea downtown about 1-1/2 hours before the crash outside the Polish American Club where she'd been drinking.
Officer Michael Sullivan later reported that he could tell that Shea had been drinking, but she didn't seem drunk at that time. Sullivan knew Shea's license had been suspended that very day because he'd involved himself in her court case, for which he was later disciplined by the department. Police said he had not known that Shea was driving that night, however.
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This article appears in the August 15 2008 issue of New Hampshire Business Review