BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. – Dennis Drue was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in State Prison at Saratoga County Court Thursday afternoon.
Drue, 23, pleaded guilty in September to 58 counts for causing the Northway crash that killed two Shenendehowa High School seniors in December 2012.
Drue was previously indicted on 59 criminal charges, including 52 felonies, including Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Manslaughter and DWI, for causing the December 2012 car crash that killed Deanna Rivers and Chris Stewart, both 17-years-old, and seriously injured Matthew Hardy and Bailey Wind.
The court opened to the public at 1 p.m. to a large crowd of friends and family of the victims. Bailey Wind, who was in a relationship with Stewart at the time of the crash, read a victim impact statement prior to the sentencing which began at 1:30 p.m.
“What do I say to a person that has ruined so many lives?” said Bailey, who wore Chris' football jersey to court. She continued, “Chris Stewart was my best friend and love of my life and you killed him.”
Matt took the stand after Bailey. Both described how that night affected them.
Bailey called Drue a monster saying he took away her best friend and that he was texting and driving while they were on their way to a sleepover.
Matt said Drue has devastated an entire community in ways he will never understand.
“I lost two of my best friend that night,” Matt said. “Chris was liked by everyone. I miss him every day. The first time I saw Deanna I knew she was special.” He described the aftermath of the crash as a dream.
There were some arguments over the plea deal of 5-15 years. The families wished it was more, but the judge stuck to the agreement.
Deanna Rivers' parent's also read a victim impact statement.
“Drue believes this was an accident. He will kill again and bless anyone who crosses his destructive path,” said Deanna's father, Brian Rivers.
Rivers noted that Drue has a significant driving record which includes five suspensions, 22 traffic tickets including more than a dozen speeding tickets, and four previous accidents. His license was not suspended at the time of the crash.
Chris Stewart's mother brought her son's ashes to court on Thursday and placed them on the witness stand.
“I'm not mad at you Dennis,” Regina Stewart said. “I just have a very heavy heart. You didn't care enough about your own life to make a good decision.”
Following the victim impact statements, Drue took the witness stand. He explained that he is “grateful to have the opportunity to express deepest sorrow to families.”
“I never meant to hurt anybody,” he said. “I take full responsibility. I'm so sorry, I really am.”
After Drue made his statement, Judge Scarano sentenced Drue to the agreed upon sentence of 5 to 15 years in State Prison.
Following the sentencing, the families of the victims met inside the Grand Jury room of the Saratoga County Court House.
Those who spoke, thanked the entire community for support of the first responders on the scene and the nurses and doctors that took care of them after the crash.
Drue pleaded guilty to the charges in Saratoga County Court only a few days before his trial was scheduled to begin. He remained free on $50,000 bail until Thursday's sentencing date.
When Drue pleaded guilty, the judge asked Drue if he caused the death of two Shen students, he replied “yes.” Drue also admitted he was high on marijuana and speeding at the time of the crash.
Prior to the guilty pleas, an appeals court denied a motion filed by Drue's attorney to change the venue for the trial. The judge also decided to allow Drue's statements he made after the fatal crash to be used in court. Drue told officers on scene the night of December 1, 2012 that he hit black ice and lost control of his vehicle. When a trooper engaged him in conversation Drue said, “Oh, I love my car, my poor car.”
District Attorney Jim Murphy said Drue's blood alcohol content was over the legal limit at the time of the crash, and he was also impaired by drugs. Prosecutors have also said marijuana and drug paraphilia were found in Drue's car.
Drue told police he had one drink with dinner the night of the crash and blew a BAC of .08 percent. He repeatedly said he hit black ice and lost control, and the other car involved in the crash must have hit the same ice. He was taken to the hospital for minor injuries after the crash where he said he would speak voluntarily and take a blood test after being read his rights.
Murphy previously stated an investigation revealed Drue had been drinking at Koto Restaurant in Colonie where it was determined that he had 4 shots of alcohol, gin and tonics, and beers. He said Drue drove up the Northway toward Saratoga County when he began to text another person while driving. As Drue approached what became the area of the crash, NYSP accident reconstruction experts said his speed was nearly 80 miles per hour. Eye witnesses to the crash told authorities that the defendant never used his brakes before impact.
A computer chip was removed from Drue's Volvo, which was involved in the crash, and it was shipped to Sweden. This allowed Volvo authorized experts to examine and provide details as to the information the chip stored prior to impact, and the report confirmed the vehicle's speed at roughly 80 mph.
It was later determined that Drue had 8.4 nanograms/milliliter of active byproduct of marijuana THC in his blood stream, an extremely high quantity. According to authorities, this level would affect his reaction time and capability to control his muscle movement.
Drue was arrested on January 4, 2013 at his Halfmoon home. While he was being transported, court documents state Drue suddenly said, “This is bullsh**. Those kids slammed on their brakes. This is just an accident, nothing more. You just need somebody to parade around for their deaths.” He also continued to claim there were no drugs in his system.
The Shen students were leaving a sports game when the Volvo driven by Drue hit Stewart's Ford Explorer. Both Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers were pronounced dead at the scene. Bailey Wind, a Shaker High School student, and Matthew Hardy have since recuperated from the accident after a long road of recovery.
The community rallied around the victims of the crash. Students said Bailey Wind and Chris Stewart were a couple, and Matt Hardy and Deanna Rivers were also a couple.
The two survivors of the crash are now suing Dennis Drue. Bailey Wind and Matt Hardy's lawyer confirmed in November that they are asking for $1 million and punitive damages.
Shenendehowa and Shaker High Schools recently held “A Day of Remembrance” in honor of the lives lost in the accident.