WOBURN — Following an emotional statement by the victim’s mother, a Haverhill woman was sentenced to three years in a house of correction for her role in the death of a fellow Framingham State University student in a 2011 drunk-driving crash.
Brooke Uttley had initially pled not guilty after being charged in December 2011 with charged with vehicular homicide while driving under the influence, operating a vehicle under the influence of liquor causing serious bodily injury and driving to endanger. She changed her plea to guilty on all three charges Wednesday in the death of Ashley Donahue, 20.
Uttley, now 23, of Haverhill, appeared distraught as she was led into the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles.
According to prosecutor Darina Belot, on Dec. 3, 2011 Uttley, at 2:20 a.m. police responded to a single vehicle accident on Badger Way near the Framingham-Ashland border.
The night of the accident, Belot said Uttley had been celebrating her 22nd birthday with friends at an apartment she was renting in Ashland. Although she had been drinking, Uttley offered to drive four friends from FSU back to their residences in Framingham.
Investigators and witnesses reported that Uttley had been driving in excess of 70 mph down Badger Way, a 35 mph zone when Uttley’s vehicle struck a utility pole.
Two passengers were ejected from the car. One suffered serious injuries. The other, Ashley Donahue, of Bridgewater, was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Belot, a uniformed police officer found Uttley in the woods nearby speaking into a mobile phone, saying, “We’re all OK. We’ll be right there.” Uttley then told the officer she didn’t want police involved in the accident. It was later determined that Uttley had a blood alcohol level of .1 percent, above the .08 legal limit.
In a statement to the court, Ashley Donahue’s mother, Patty, spoke of the daughter she and her husband adopted as a newborn. Patty Donahue said Ashley was “the daughter every parent dreams of.”
She added that Ashley was a good student who loved her family and friends and had a lifelong passion for dance, becoming a member of the Framingham State dance team.
“There are no words to describe how completely shattered our lives are,” Patty Donahue said. “Everyday is a struggle since (Ashley’s) senseless death. … This is not a nightmare. This is our reality.”
Patty Donahue said Uttley made a “recklessly irresponsible decision to drive” at criminal speed down a dark, winding road.
“Brooke has not shown remorse,” she said, citing the fact that Uttley has been seen at Framingham State parties, and that she had her bail revoked after she was caught drinking vodka and cranberry juice at the Framingham TGI Friday’s.
Uttley had been released on the conditions that she not drive between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and that she was prohibited from consuming alcohol. However, in April a Framingham Police officer working a detail at the restaurant determined that Uttley had been drinking with friends. Uttley’s bail was subsequently revoked.
On Wednesday, the prosecution had asked for a 4-5 year sentence in state prison. “Four to five years is trite compared to the life sentence the Donahue family will be serving,” Belot said.
Belot said Uttley “ignored the pleas of her passengers” to slow down, instead responding with laughter.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner said his client had been a good friend of Ashley Donahue. “They were both cut from the same cloth.” Denner characterized Uttley as a student overcame learning disabilities and “social awkwardness” who wanted to become a teacher.
The former criminal justice major spent two years at Framingham State before transferring to UMass Lowell for a semester.
Denner said Uttley’s drinking at TGI Friday’s was “an expression of incredible sadness and depression and anxiety.”
“Yes, she believes she should go to jail,” Denner said, but warned against sending Uttley to a state prison. “She’s not going to fare well in jail. … She’s a very frail, small, sensitive human being.”
“This sentencing is one of the most difficult proceedings I’ve been involved with as a judge,” said Superior Court Associate Justice S. Jane Haggerty, adding that while Uttley did the “unthinkable–she killed a friend,” she was not an evil person.
Haggerty sentenced Uttley to four years with one year suspended at a house of correction, and four years of probation. Rather than state prison, Uttley will be incarcerated at MCI-Framingham and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as often as possible.
Among the conditions of her, she must submit to random drug and alcohol screenings, undergo a substance abuse evaluation, continue AA meetings three times a week, conduct 100 hours of community service, and seek out and maintain employment or continue her college education. She is prohibited from having any contact with the Donahue family.
Based on a suggestion by Patty Donahue, Uttley must go to six different high schools during her probation and speak with students about the dangers of drunk driving.