EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 7, 2012

Through tears, lessons learned from state's first fatal texting-while-driving case

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

HAVERHILL — As court officers led 18-year-old Aaron Deveau out of a courtroom in handcuffs to begin serving a year in jail, his father, mother, grandmother and other family members wept. So did members of Donald Bowley Jr.'s family.

"There are no winners today," Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said yesterday in a statement following Deveau's conviction. "A beloved grandfather is dead. A once active woman can no longer work and is still racked with pain from her injuries and a young man is going to jail."

In the first case of its kind in Massachusetts, Deveau, of 57 Beach St., was found guilty of violating a relatively new law that bans drivers from texting while driving. He was also found guilty of motor vehicle homicide.

During the four-day trial, Prosecutor Ashlee Logan proved that on Feb. 20, 2011, due to his negligence, Deveau crossed the yellow center lines on River Street near Cliff Avenue and crashed into an oncoming car driven by Donald Bowley Jr., 56, of 141 Sandown Road, Danville, N.H. Bowley's girlfriend, Luz Roman, 58, of Haverhill was a passenger in the car. Bowley and Roman were taken to Lawrence General Hospital and later airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital, where Bowley died on March 10 as a result of the injuries sustained in the crash, Blodgett said.

Logan also proved that Deveau was texting while driving negligently and caused injury to Roman.

"This charge was one of several created by the texting law that took effect on Sept. 30, 2010," Blodgett said. "That law defines texting as manually composing, sending or reading an electronic message."

He said the law makes it a crime to negligently drive while texting and causing injury and is punishable by up to 2 years in the House of Correction.

Abany sentenced Deveau to 2 1/2 years in the House of Correction on the motor vehicle homicide charge and two years on the texting and causing injury charge. Blodgett said Deveau will serve one year concurrently on both charges. The balance of both charges were suspended for five years.

In addition, his license is suspended for 15 years on the vehicular homicide charge. Deveau will be 33 before he can legally drive again, Abany noted. Abany also ordered Deveau to spend 40 hours volunteering at a rehabilitation hospital during his first of three years of probation.

Throughout most of yesterday's proceedings, Deveau sat quietly, hands clasped, looking straight ahead and showing little outward emotion — even after being found guilty. His face told another story. His eyes glistened with tears and his cheeks appeared flushed. Prior to sentencing, he spent a few precious moments hugging his grandmother and other family members.

Abany noted during sentencing that Deveau turned 17 just 12 days prior to the accident.

Following the jury's decision and before returning to the courtroom for Deveau's sentencing, Luz Roman and members of Bowley's family gathered at one end of the hall, while Deveau's family waited at the other end.

Asked if the verdict made things any easier for her, Roman simply said, "relief."

Dawn Bowley said the verdict brought her some sense of peace, but that "he's still not here," referring to her father, Donald Bowley.

Asked what people can learn from the trial, she said "to be responsible."

Deveau's family kept reporters at bay and during one tense moment Deveau's grandmother told TV cameramen to "go away." A physical confrontation nearly ensued between reporters and a young man who was with the Deveau family. After sentencing, Deveau's family rushed through the same crowd of cameras and reporters without stopping to say a word.

'So many losses'

Deveau and his mother, as well as Roman and members of Bowley's family, made impact statements yesterday that brought tears to the eyes of their family members and Deveau's family members.

"There are no words to describe how I'm feeling," Roman said. "It has given me anxiety, sadness, loss of sleep, loss of my boyfriend. So many losses."

Roman talked about her broken body and her broken heart. She said the crash left her with many bills and asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Deveau.

"He took a life away," Roman said.

Donald Bowley's sister, Donna Burleigh, talked about the pain Deveau caused.

"Our family suffered a terrible, terrible loss when he was taken from us unexpectedly in a tragic and unnecessary accident," Burleigh said.

"Aaron has managed to accomplish something that not even the boys in Iraq and Afghanistan could do, and that is to bring two strong women to their knees," Burleigh said. She said the hardest thing she's had to witness was seeing her brother in the last moments of his life.

"I still have nightmares of reliving every moment of Donald's time in the hospital ... of hearing him take his last breath... gasping for air and his last breath was an extreme struggle ... when I thought he had gone, there was one last gasp," Burleigh said.

Burleigh asked Abany to hold Deveau accountable for his actions.

Dawn Bowley called her father a strong and healthy man who had strong values and loved his country. "My dad was my rock," she said in a trembling voice. "Anything that was wrong my dad made it right."

"You'll never know what it is like to walk into a hospital room and see your daddy laying there," she said. "He's just so swollen and he's got things coming out of his head. He's got tubes down his throat ... all you can do is hold his callused hands cause he worked so hard. All you can do is talk to him ... The nurses come in to clean out his mouth and they suck his teeth out because of a freaking car accident."

Roman, who was sitting with Bowley's family, burst into tears. Dawn Bowley spoke of bringing her children to say goodbye to their grandfather and his horrifying condition "His skin was gray, he was clammy, he smelled. I told him I loved him and I had to go home to take care of my children. No more than three hours later we get the phone call.

"My daughter, she slept with his ashes," Dawn Bowley said. "Until we buried him she couldn't let him go."

Asking forgiveness

Aaron Deveau's mother addressed the court as well. She called the accident a tragedy that affected her family, the Bowley family and the Roman family. "Our hearts go out to them," she said.

"He would never, ever intentionally hurt anybody," she said about her son.

Aaron Deveau made a brief statement in which he apologized to the Bowley family.

His lawyer, Joseph Lussier, said a penalty had to be paid for a "stupid decision by a 17-year-old kid who was entrusted with a large automobile and made a mistake." He asked the judge for leniency saying a lesson can be learned by giving Deveau the opportunity to speak out and try to change things instead of having him sit in a jail cell.

Before imposing a sentence, Abany retold a story from the Bible about a dream in which God came to King Solomon and asked him what he wanted. Abany said Solomon asked for an understanding of heart and the ability to discern good from evil. He said Solomon asked for wisdom and not riches or a long life.

"I'm not as wise as Solomon," Abany said. "We're judges and we try do the best we can and take into account all the factors we are given."

"People want to be safe on the highways," Abany added. "The basic lesson in this case is to keep your eyes on the road."

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