A draining courtroom scene, as Kelly McCarron is sentenced to jail for fatal accident

In a courtroom filled with family, friends, and sadness, Kelly McCarron, 18, of Edgartown pled guilty in Edgartown District Court Friday to vehicular homicide, while driving under the influence of alcohol. She began at once to serve a one-year jail term for her role in the June 11, 2009 car crash that killed her passenger and friend, Jena Pothier of Oak Bluffs.

As part of a plea agreement, associate justice H. Gregory Williams sentenced Ms. McCarron to 2.5 years in a House of Correction, with one year to be served, and the rest of the sentence suspended for five years of probation. She was ordered to complete 500 hours of community service, the equivalent of more than three months of full time work. Also as part of the plea agreement, she is required to cooperate with police and prosecutors in their investigation of the person who supplied alcohol to the two underage teenagers on the day that ended in horror.

Yesterday, State Police Sergeant Neal Maciel told The Times “the investigation is ongoing.” Sergeant Maciel said he expects charges to be filed in the case.

Ms. McCarron will serve her jail sentence at the Barnstable House of Correction. The Dukes County House of Correction in Edgartown does not have facilities for women.

Cape and Island District Attorney Laura Marshard told The Times the Pothier family played a significant role in developing the plea agreement.

“The District Attorney’s office worked very closely with the victim’s family in trying to fashion a resolution that addressed the family’s concerns. It was a very solid case. The victim’s family gave us a lot of input. It was important that it was something they felt comfortable with,” Ms. Marshard said.

From ordinary, to tragic

On June 11, 2009, Kelly McCarron, then 17, was set to graduate in three days from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Jena Pothier, 18, had just completed her freshman year at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.

Police reports show that the two young women enjoyed a fairly ordinary day on the Vineyard the day of the accident. They visited friends, had a cookout, listened to music, and ordered Chinese food. Witnesses told police that Ms. McCarron and Ms. Pothier also purchased a half-gallon of alcohol that day from an adult who bought it legally from a store. Witnesses told police both girls were drinking throughout the day.

About 10 pm, the two girls were traveling on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, about a mile west of the airport, behind a vehicle moving at a modest speed. In a sequence one witness described as “road rage,” Ms. McCarron accelerated to a high rate of speed and passed the slower vehicle.

Ms. McCarron lost control of her car as she was trying to return to the westbound lane, to avoid an oncoming car traveling east. The driver of the eastbound vehicle told police he took evasive action to avoid being hit by Ms. McCarron’s car.

According to the police investigation, the vehicle scraped one tree, snapped off another, spun and hit a third tree. Then the McCarron car traveled another 66 feet and came to rest on the shoulder of the road.

Ms. McCarron, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle. Ms. Pothier, who was wearing a seatbelt, was pinned in the wreckage. She was pronounced dead several hours later at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Emotional courtroom

The two families sat in the courtroom Friday fidgeting, laughing nervously, and wearing grim expressions, with tears falling. In the next to last row of the seating area, Kelly McCarron sat with her extended family, her mother, sister, grandmother, and others. The friends and family of Jena Pothier filled three rows of seats, directly in front of the McCarron family. They waited patiently through other court business for much of the morning. Jena Pothier’s mother Terri, and father David, came into the courtroom just before the court took up the matter of the McCarron plea. On one side of the parents sat a grief counselor. On the other side, the recently retired West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey. Terri Pothier clutched a framed picture of her daughter. One family’s tears were for Ms. McCarron, about to begin a jail sentence. The others were for Ms. Pothier.

Ms. Marshard told the court that if the case had gone to trial, the Commonwealth would have proven that Ms. McCarron was driving the vehicle, with Ms. Pothier as a passenger, at a speed of 86 miles per hour on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road last June, nearly twice the legal speed limit. She said the evidence showed that Ms. McCarron, when she lost control of the vehicle, had a blood alcohol level of .23, nearly three times the legal limit for a person of drinking age.

When Ms. McCarron faced the judge, she appeared composed.

“Ms. McCarron has limited memory of the facts,” said defense attorney Charles Morano, “because she was injured in the accident.”

But he said she understood that the evidence showed she was responsible. Judge Williams asked her about her understanding of the legal consequences of her guilty plea. She answered in a quiet, but clear voice that she did.

Mr. Morano said his client did not dispute the evidence or the sentence imposed. She did not speak, but Mr. Morano described her as remorseful and, immediately following the accident, longing to call the Pothier family and express that remorse. On behalf of his client, Mr. Morano apologized to the Pothier family and offered condolences.

Terrible impact

Terri and David Pothier then stood before the judge. Terri Pothier held the portrait of her daughter for the judge to see, as she and her husband spoke. The Pothiers said they are still in shock, and they asked the grief counselor, Vicki Hanjian, to read their victim impact statement before sentencing.

“We need the court to be aware of the intensification of grief we feel every day,” Ms. Hanjian read on behalf of the Pothier family. “The tears never end. The scene plays out in our minds every day. We wake up with tears in our eyes every day. We say good morning to her picture. We ask Jena for help throughout the day. The heart really aches a physical pain, when a heart is broken like ours is broken.”

Terri Pothier told the judge, through the grief counselor, that she once found herself speaking to her daughter on the phone, two or three times a day.

“My phone never rings. I am not accustomed to the silence. We do not like the silence.” The Pothier family said in their statement that Jena’s stereo has been playing since the night she died, to help fill that silence.

“Jena will never have an apartment, get a real job. Her dad will never give her hand in marriage. We all died a lot that night. Jena, our daughter, our baby, our love, died completely,” said the counselor on behalf of the family.

Around the courtroom, families, court officers, attorneys, and the judge appeared deeply moved by the statement. Some appeared shaken.

“There is nothing this court can do,” Judge Williams said, “nothing I can say personally, to alleviate your unbelievable suffering. I wish you some measure of peace.”

As a court officer placed Ms. McCarron in handcuffs, the young woman began to sob.

Heartbreak

Asked for comment, Susan Habekost, Ms. McCarron’s mother, emailed the following statement to The Times.

“It is a horrible heartbreak to see your child handcuffed and taken to jail. Never in a million years would Kelly have knowingly hurt any of her friends or family.

“Jail is a punishment that, in Kelly’s own words, will never compare to the punishment and pain she experiences daily.

“Kelly’s life has changed so much this past year. She is involved in AA and has been the speaker at several meetings. She has received help and in turn, helped many others. She wants to continue to help and make a difference. She has so much love, compassion, and goodness to share.

“Kelly gave me a beautiful hand-made journal for Mother’s Day. It is filled with inspirational words to help me get through this time without her. The first page says, ‘I will be forever grateful to Jena for introducing me to the way of life I now know.’

“My thoughts and prayers are with Jena’s family, and also with my beautiful Kelly. May we all find some peace.”