Stephentown, NY, man sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for fatal accident
TROY- Before Rensselaer County Court Judge Debra Young sentenced Stephentown resident Brendan Hoffman to five to 15 years in prison on Friday, she said she found common themes in letters sent to the court describing Hoffman and victim Christopher Baker.
The letters described both Hoffman and Baker as "exceptional people," and some even described Hoffman as a "caring person" and that he made positive contributions to the community.
Those were character traits Young said she would like to think would have continued if the events of June 28, 2012 - where Hoffman drunkenly drove down Route 43, crashed and killed Baker, his passenger - never happened.
"But they did happen," Young said. "And Christopher Baker died that night."
Hoffman, 22, shackled and dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, was given a chance to address the court before he was sentenced, but he couldn't.
Hoffman had been crying for most of the sentencing after hearing victim impact statements from both of Baker's parents, and was too emotionally distraught when his turn to speak came.
So, he deferred to his attorney Peter Moschetti to read his brief statement.
Hoffman expressed his sympathy to Baker's family, and apologized for the events that occurred.
"I pray every day to God to give the Bakers the strength they need to overcome this loss," Hoffman's statement read. "[Baker] was my best friend and his death is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life."
Hoffman, 22, was convicted of several counts of vehicular manslaughter, the sentences of which will run concurrently, as well as a charge of leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.
Drunk and high on marijuana, Hoffman left Baker's home the evening of June 27, 2012, after having issues with his then-girlfriend, Alecia Walker. Baker ran after him to try and stop him from driving off.
Following the crash, Hoffman was picked up by Amber Walker, Alecia's sister, and they left the scene of the accident. Baker's body was ejected from the vehicle and wasn't found until several hours later.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Shanley went through the list of other convictions Hoffman has had since he was 18, including two DWIs, which led to his license being suspended.
It was because of those previous incidents, Shanley argued, that the events on June 28, 2012, could not be considered an accident.
"This is a reckless individual who has no concern whatsoever for his safety or the safety of others around him," Shanley said, adding Hoffman continued to drink after the incident. "He chose to drink alcohol, smoke marijuana and to get behind the wheel even though his license was suspended. This was an inevitable result of this type of behavior."
Nancy Petersen, Baker's mother, said the fact that Baker tried to stop Brendan from driving and asked him to stay over showed how good of a friend he was.
Having to go through the trial was "torture," Petersen said, saying it was more a fight to prove what really happened the evening of the accident as Hoffman tried to pin the fault on her son.
"The trial was a battle to validate the truth that I knew, that others knew about who was to blame in this horrific accident." Peterson said. "This trial was torture having to relive Christopher's totally preventable death."
Both Petersen and Baker's father, Brian Baker, spoke of their son's character. They talked about his exceptional performance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his love for his sister Emily and his grandmother, and his plans to travel the country after college.
Brian Baker, a local attorney, said his son had just found himself intellectually and how he explored topics such as philosophy, physics and quantum mechanics.
The scene of the accident continues to haunt the Baker family, as Brian Baker said they are forced to drive by it four times a day. Brian Baker also said he will never be able to forget the screams he heard from his daughter when she discovered her brother was dead.
Petersen explained it will be difficult for her to go on without Baker, but said for a person like her son who believed in finding the truth in life, the result of the trial was able to validate his belief.
"I think of aging without Chris to talk to," Petersen said. "All we have left to give Chris is to reassure and be sure the truth exists."
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