Md. judge issues stiff sentence for fatal drunk driving; ‘This must stop’

Kate Ryan,

WASHINGTON — At the sentencing of 20-year-old Kevin Coffay, it was clear there were two sides to the story, and two sides in the courtroom.

On the one side, friends, family and supporters of Coffay, who say that he made a terrible mistake and shouldn’t be judged for his single “worst moment.” And on the other side, supporters of the three people who died in Coffay’s car on May 15, who wanted to see a stiff sentence handed down in the deaths of Spencer Datt and Haeley McGuire, both 18, and John Hoover, 20.

Coffay pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter by motor vehicle and one count of leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with 20 suspended — meaning he’ll face 20 years. He was also ordered to serve five years probation.

Upon release, he’ll have to attend five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week for the duration of his probation. And any car he drives will be fitted with an interlock device to prevent him from being able to drive drunk.

At the sentencing, the judge noted the carnage caused by underage drinking, saying, “This must stop.” She repeated the phrase, but targeted it this time, saying, “To all the young people in this courtroom: This must stop.”

Then, she addressed the broader community, saying there seems to be a culture that “doesn’t just tolerate” the recklessness of underage drinking and driving, but that sometimes empowers it.

After the sentencing, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy applauded the judge’s sentence.

“It means we as a community are beginning to take this seriously,” he said.

McCarthy said after the May 15 crash, he went out into the community to talk to parents and young people about issues surrounding underage drinking.

“And we realized that there was an atmosphere of tolerance, of permissiveness about allowing teenage drinking to occur,” he said. “We need to help our adult community — and we need their help in changing this culture. It is not acceptable to provide alcohol to minors in situations where you think — mistakenly — that you have control over the situation.”

McCarthy noted that Magruder High School, which was attended by all three of the young people killed in the Olney crash, has formed a new organization called The Brave and the Bold. The group deals with underage drinking, and a culture that allows it.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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