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Families tell court of grief

Semi driver sentenced in double-fatal crash

Saunders

Like a rock thrown into a pond, sending ripples away from the point of entry, Scott Saunders’ actions on Jan. 8, 2013, sent ripples of grief down through generations.

Saunders, 51, an over-the-road trucker, slammed into a line of cars at a traffic light on U.S. 30 at Doyle Road east of New Haven, killing two women in separate vehicles – Suzanne K. Stephenson, 65, of Monroeville and Sandra Dealey, 43, of Convoy, Ohio. Seven other individuals were injured in the six-vehicle wreck at a wide-open intersection.

In June, Saunders pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide and four counts of criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon.

In exchange for the guilty plea, which spared the victims’ families the strain of a trial, Saunders would spend little time behind bars but would lose his driver’s license for more than a decade.

During Monday’s sentencing hearing in Allen Superior Court, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred read letters from the widowers, describing the tremendous loss felt by their families.

Both men described their wives as the glue that held their respective families together.

Dealey’s husband described the manner in which the couple’s six children, ranging in age from 7 to 22, were processing the sudden and violent loss of their mother. Their grief left them in varying stages – from withdrawn to emotive and angry.

Stephenson’s husband of 34 years wrote in his letter about the way in which the couple were rediscovering themselves in their new lives as retirees.

“My family and I have a life sentence with her,” Mildred read.

When it was his turn to address the court, the defeated-looking Saunders kept using the word “accident” to describe the crash and said he was unsure how it occurred.

What occurred, according to court documents in the criminal and civil cases connected to the crash, was that Saunders failed to slow the 70,000-pound semi as the traffic began to creep forward as the light turned green.

After the hearing, Mildred said Saunders had about 50 seconds’ worth of a red light before he got to the intersection at speeds of about 50 mph.

Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck sentenced Saunders to four years in prison, but he ordered three years of that suspended on the first charge of reckless homicide.

On the second charge, he was given a suspended prison sentence of four years; and he received a suspended sentence of three years each on all the counts of criminal recklessness.

With the time he has already served behind bars, Saunders will likely be released soon to electronic home monitoring for the first three years of a six-year term of probation. His driver’s license will be suspended for at least 10 years, according to terms of the plea agreement.

Saunders said he stopped driving and has been riding his bike to work – 18 miles round-trip – since his arrest in South Carolina this year.

No amount of prison time or lack of driving abilities will slow the effects of Saunders’ actions on the families.

“Nothing is going to bring those two moms back,” Mildred said.

rgreen@jg.net

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