DEDHAM -- A man who lost his leg when he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle two years ago tearfully hugged the driver in court today, offering his forgiveness.
"I know you’re sorry. I really do,” Mark Cronin said before embracing Marybeth Frisoli in the middle of her sentencing hearing. Court officers trained to intervene in such situations watched in apparent amazement.
Cronin added later, “It was me letting her know I do forgive her.”
Frisoli did not say anything as her eyes, too, welled with tears.
As she was led away from the courtroom in handcuffs to begin a six-month sentence, she could only muster the strength to say, “Bye Mark,” fighting off tears again.
Frisoli, 33, of Quincy is a former probation officer in Juvenile Court in Boston. She received a sentence of 2 1/2 years in the August 2008 crash, with all but six months suspended. She will also have to serve three years of probation, during which she must refrain from drugs and alcohol, undergo random testing, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous classes.
A Norfolk Superior Court jury had deliberated for less than a day before finding her guilty Wednesday of operating under the influence with negligence, resulting in serious bodily injury. She faced a maximum sentence of 10 years, but a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. Prosecutors asked that she serve a year in jail.
Her lawyer, Daniel W. O’Malley of Quincy, said Frisoli has expressed remorse -- and communicated that to Cronin.
He said she has never been in trouble with the law before.
“Her last drink was that night. She’s never had a drink since,” he said.
O’Malley approached Cronin later to whisper, “You’re a special man.”
The accident occurred in the early morning of Aug. 23. Frisoli, after leaving a bar, was driving a Honda Accord the wrong way on the divided road approaching the Neponset Bridge when she struck Cronin, 42, who was riding his motorcycle in the correct direction.
Cronin’s leg was severed, and a quick-thinking passerby – John Melson, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, and an Iraqi war veteran – stopped and prevented further injuries by using Cronin’s belt to stop the bleeding. Melson tied the belt around Cronin’s left thigh, using it as a tourniquet.
Doctors later told police that the rescue saved Cronin’s life by stopping the bleeding.
Cronin said today that he has developed a close bond with Melson – who is not in the area and was unavailable for comment – and that they speak regularly.
The injury has left Cronin unable to work. He walks with an extreme limp. His wife has to take over chores like cutting the grass. And he was forced to move his family from Quincy to Weymouth to a home better suited to accommodate a wheelchair.
“It’s obvious there’s a lot of things I won’t be able to do again,” he said. Sometimes, he said, he has "nightmares waking up in the middle of the night, asking, ‘Where’s my leg?”
But Cronin also said that he reached out to Frisoli during pre-trial hearings, to forgive her. He said he couldn’t live life being bitter, not in front of his children, a boy, 6, and two girls, 7 and 12.
“My kids, I don’t want them to grow up like that,” he said. “It’s a lot healthier for me to forgive than be bitter.”
Cronin’s wife, Carolyn, said she eventually learned to share her husband’s sympathy, saying, “I know she feels awful. …She didn’t set out to do anything like this.”
Cronin even called on Norfolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders to show mercy for Frisoli, offering to speak with her at high schools about the dangers of drunken driving.
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