An unlicensed, intoxicated driver who killed two women when she plowed a car into a group of bicyclists was sentenced Monday to up to 40 years in prison after one of the survivors and the victims' loved ones spoke of the agony their deaths had caused.
"You changed my world. The whole universe changed. Two of the kindest, most wonderful women were taken from all of us," a tearful Margo Heigh told Darriean Hess, speaking of the two friends who were riding behind her on a sunny Saturday 16 months ago and were killed when Hess crashed into them.
Heigh said she doesn't know what Pamela Wells and Elise Bouchard would have said to Hess, but she described them as kinder and more forgiving than herself.
"The world is a darker place today," she said. "I know there are nice people in the world, but not like Pam and Elise."
Hess, 20, pleaded guilty to two counts each of manslaughter and second-degree assault in the deaths of Wells, 60, of Hamilton, Massachusetts, and Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, Massachusetts. Heigh, of Danvers, was injured, along with Uwe Yhmeyer, 60, of Essex, Massachusetts.
Hess had been ticketed for speeding eight hours before the Sept. 21, 2013, crash and was under the influence of a powerful painkiller when she ran into the four friends and cyclists in Hampton, County Attorney Patricia Conway said. Hess was aware of the Tri-State Century Ride, a 100-mile noncompetitive ride along the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine coasts, and there was nothing obstructing her view as she came up and over a bridge and veered into the other lane.
Witnesses described bodies and bicycles flying in the air.
Hess was sentenced in Rockingham County Superior Court to 15 to 40 years in prison, with an additional seven to 14 years suspended. Other than answering the judge's questions in a low, nearly inaudible voice, Hess didn't speak at the hearing and only glanced at her victims' family members who gave emotional statements.
Hess heard Wells' voice when her brother Kim Wells played a cheerful voicemail she had left for his son two days before her death.
"I didn't play that to be cruel," he told Hess. "I hope you take that voice with you."
Since his sister's death, Wells said, he has lost the ability to be joyful or appreciate beauty.
"I know I've boxed myself into a corner. It's a spider web of pain," he said. "Some say, 'Think of good memories,' but I still want new ones. Some say, 'Get past it. Find closure. Find resolution.' But I'm afraid I'm going to forget her."
Another brother, Peter Wells, said that for better or worse, Hess has become part of his family's story, and he implored her to make the rest of her life meaningful.
"As strange as it sounds, good luck with your yet unrealized significant moments," he said.
In a letter read by the prosecutor, Bouchard's brother, Robert Bouchard, called Hess stubborn, selfish and arrogant for getting back behind the wheel after being pulled over before the fatal crash. But he said he doesn't hate Hess and hopes she will someday become like his sister: "selfless, respectful of others, joyful and loving."