No jail time in vehicular homicide case
Ruling in an emotional case that touched two well-known Island families, Edgartown District Court Judge Donald Carpenter on Friday sentenced Theodore Bennett of Edgartown to probation in connection with the motor vehicle death last summer of David Honey of Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Bennett was scheduled to face trial on a charge of motor vehicle homicide. Last week's ruling was based on a "defendant cap plea," a procedural move that allows the defense to propose a sentence but retain the option of going to trial if the judge does not agree.
The case stemmed from an accident on Aug. 7, 2005, when Mr. Bennett's Volvo struck Mr. Honey's motorcycle at the intersection of State Road, Scotchman's Bridge Lane, and Panhandle Road.
Judge Carpenter gave Mr. Bennett, 24, a continuance without a finding. That means that Mr. Bennett admitted to sufficient facts and will be on probation for two years, assistant district attorney Laura Marshard explained. Mr. Bennett must also perform 100 hours of community service. If Mr. Bennett does not violate the terms of the probation, the charges will be dismissed at the end of the two years. The mandatory 15-year loss of license that comes with a conviction for vehicular homicide does not apply unless Mr. Bennett violates the terms and conditions of the continuance.
The plea was not agreed to by the prosecution.
Ms. Marshard asked the court to sentence Mr. Bennett to two years' jail time with 30 days to serve, and for his license to be revoked for 15 years.
The defense asked for the continuance and no jail time, as part of the defendant cap plea, which is what Judge Carpenter ruled. If Judge Carpenter had not consented to the defense's proposed disposition, Mr. Bennett could have withdrawn the plea and requested a jury trial.
Ms. Marshard said Judge Carpenter reviewed all pieces of the case thoroughly, including all police reports and the victim impact statements.
Mr. Marshard said the victim's wife, Laura Honey, and his two sisters were present for all of the court proceedings, including Friday's disposition, when they gave lengthy and emotional victim impact statements.
Mr. Bennett was originally charged with motor vehicle homicide by reckless operation, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and failure to yield at an intersection. The negligent operation charge was dismissed in March because it was late filed.
Ms. Marshard explained that when motor vehicle homicide accidents occur, a statute allows for charges to be filed late, so sufficient facts may be gathered from investigators.
In this case, the prosecution relied heavily on the State Police accident reconstruction team to evaluate the collision. Once their report was produced, and the charges were filed, the court determined that too much time had elapsed and dismissed the lesser charge of negligent operation. Ms. Marshard said she did not appeal the dismissal because the more serious charge of motor vehicle homicide was allowed.
"We wanted to air on the side of caution," Ms. Marshard said, explaining why the charges were not filed immediately after the accident. "We didn't want to issue something that wasn't based on fact."
Edgartown clerk magistrate Liza Williamson said Judge Carpenter's sentencing was typical and in line with similar cases, given a lack of evidence of negligence or any prior convictions.
Although tragic, Ms. Williamson said the defendant received an appropriate sentence.
"These were two wonderful families brought together by tragedy," Ms. Williamson said. "This was not a jail case, not even close."
In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Mrs. Honey told The Times that although it was difficult for her to reflect on the ruling, she viewed the consequences as "insufficient."
"We were told from the beginning that the victim's family doesn't feel supported by the criminal justice system, and that's the feeling we came away with," she said. "But the main thing is that we don't want to lose sight of what a good and caring person David was."
An Island lawyer, Charles Morano, represented Mr. Bennett.
"The whole thing was a tragedy for the victim and a tragedy for Mr. Bennett," Mr. Morano said in a telephone conversation yesterday. "I think the disposition was appropriate in light of all the facts and circumstances."
The accident occurred on the night of Aug. 7, 2005, when Mr. and Mrs. Honey were returning to their home in Oak Bluffs on Mr. Honey's Honda motorcycle, after taking in a sunset from the Gay Head cliffs. While traveling through West Tisbury, their motorcycle collided with Mr. Bennett's Volvo at approximately 7:45 pm at the intersection of State Road, Scotchman's Bridge Lane, and Panhandle Road.
According to West Tisbury police reports at the time, Mr. and Mrs. Honey were transported by Tri-town ambulance to Martha's Vineyard Hospital. Mr. Bennett was not injured.
Mr. Honey was later transported by Coast Guard jet to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died of injuries sustained in the crash. A hospital spokesperson said a Coast Guard jet was called upon due to weather conditions that prevented a commercial medical helicopter from flying.
Mr. Honey was a highly skilled plumber employed by Walter Smith Plumbing and Heating of Edgartown. He was born and raised on Martha's Vineyard, and his hobbies included antique tractors and his motorcycle. The couple has one daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of New Hampshire.
"He had so many friends," Mrs. Honey said of her late husband. "It's been amazing the number of people who have come to me with stories about what David did for them and how much they valued his friendship."