JEFFERSON — A drunk driver who caused a crash last October that killed four people was sentenced Thursday to 32 years in prison.
The family of Donte M. Conard, 49, of Ashtabula, as well as family and friends of the victims, sobbed in a crowded Ashtabula County courtroom when the maximum sentence was imposed by Common Pleas Judge Marianne Sezon. The judge also suspended his driver's license for life and imposed an $850 fine.
County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci had asked the judge to sentence Conard to the maximum — eight years for each life without the possibility of parole. He reviewed Conard's criminal record before the fatal crash, which included four previous operating a vehicle while intoxicated charges, a failure to comply, domestic violence, burglary, probation violations and aggravated disorderly conduct — 12 traffic convictions and 21 license suspensions.
"Four lives were lost in an instant," he said. "The seriousness of the defendant's actions, the likely revisitation, the impact on lives demands and requires the maximum sentence of 32 years."
Conard pleaded no contest in April to four felony counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for the deaths of Giovanni L. Miller, 18; Giovanni L. Miller Jr., 22 months old; Anastasia Smith, 19, and Michelle Hommes, 47, all of Ashtabula. He also pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.
Conard drove his Dodge pickup through a four-way stop at West 58th Street and Adams Avenue in Ashtabula on Oct. 19 and ran into a Toyota Corolla driven by Miller. Conard's blood alcohol level was .201 grams — well above the legal limit — and he was traveling at a high rate of speed, Iarocci said.
All four people in the Toyota were pronounced dead at the scene.
In a plea negotiation to avoid putting the victims' family through a trial, prosecutors dismissed an additional four counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, third-degree felonies; one count of cocaine possession, a fifth-degree felony; and one count of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse or combination of them.
Defense attorney James Gay of Cleveland said Thursday that Conard is an alcoholic and remorseful. He argued a prison cell would not help Conard recover from "a disease that can be treated" and asked "justice be tempered by mercy." He asked Sezon to consider an eight-year sentence.
Conard then stood up and made a tearful apology to the victims' family and his own family.
"No words can express how sorry I am ... I hope you will find someway to forgive me and be there for me," he said. "I throw myself on the mercy of the court."
Several members of the victims' family then collapsed in a sobbing heap in each other's arms.
Conard's daughter, Brittany, told the court her father struggles with alcoholism and she asked the judge to help him.
"I really want my son to spend time with his grandfather," she said.
Three members of the victims' family also spoke before the sentencing.
"My whole sunshine is gone," said Nicole Hommes, Antastasia Smith's mother and Giovanni Jr.'s grandmother.
She also said Smith was two weeks pregnant at the time of the crash, so another life had been extinguished.
An aunt of the victims, Jackie Peoples, said the crash has affected her family in many ways.
"We lost four at once — unbearable pain and heartache," she said.
Michelle Hommes' daughter, Amanda Dodge, said she didn't notice how important her mother was to her until she was gone, especially during the holidays.
"She did so many things for all of us," she said.
She told Conard it was "too late" for him to ask for help.
"Nobody knows what our family has been through," she said. "In a blink of an eye, everybody is just gone."
Giovanni Miller's mother, Rosa, wrote a letter to be read in court.
"They were my heart and you took them away from me," she said in the letter. "Your 32 years in prison will be easier for you than my life. I cry all the time. You took away my baby, my family. Every day we are in agony."
As Sezon announced the 32-year sentence, Conard didn't show much reaction, but his daughter and another female relative put their heads down and cried into their hands.
The victims' family and friends let out an audible sigh, hugged each other and wiped away tears.
"No sentence could adequately make up for the deaths of four people," Sezon said.
Following the hearing, Iarocci and Gay both declined further comment.