By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM — Dillon Renard’s grandfather knows all too well the perils of drinking and driving. In his youth, he recalled, he’d once done it — and nearly killed his best friend when he lost control of his car and struck a utility pole. He’d learned a lesson, Ron Bovio told a Salem District Court judge.
Bovio, sober nearly four decades, went to court yesterday knowing that nothing he said would bring back his grandson, killed last June when the driver of the car Renard was riding in slammed into the back of a flatbed tow truck on Boston Street in Salem.
“I pray all the young people here today embrace the fact that they could be the next defendant or the next victim,” said Bovio, of Peabody. “If just one young person learns from this tragedy, then Dillon will not have died in vain.”
But Bovio’s message was quickly overshadowed by that of other relatives, including his daughter Cherie Rubner, who lashed out at Judge Michael Lauranzano yesterday.
Rubner, Renard’s mother, and other relatives were furious that Angelique Griffin, 25, of Salem, received a sentence that makes her eligible for parole as soon as next June. They had been pushing for a grand jury indictment, which could have allowed prosecutors to seek a sentence of up to 15 years in state prison after trial.
Rubner, who sobbed throughout the hearing, and others were escorted out of the courtroom by court officers after she launched into a profane tirade against the court system, the judge and Griffin. Others joined in, directing their fury at Griffin, whom they referred to with vulgarities and seemingly threatened.
“We’ll get you,” one woman shouted.
“You’re gonna die,” yelled another.
Griffin pleaded guilty to a charge of motor vehicle homicide while driving drunk and, under the terms of a plea agreement negotiated by her attorney and the district attorney’s office, received a 21/2-year jail term. She was ordered to serve two years of the sentence but will become eligible for parole after she completes one year at MCI-Framingham.
The remaining six months of her sentence will be suspended, and she will be on probation for seven years, the first six months of that time on house arrest. During that time, she will be required to have a remote alcohol monitoring device called a Sobrietor installed in her home and will be subject to random screens.
She has also lost her driver’s license for 15 years.
Griffin’s lawyer, Scott Dullea, said Griffin has wanted to accept responsibility for the crash since the moment it happened, recalling how she immediately confessed at the scene, again in an ambulance and then at the hospital, where she was questioned by police.
She had also wanted to reach out to the family to apologize, Dullea said. “I could not let her do that” while the case was still pending, he told the judge.
“Any sentence Ms. Griffin gets today will not compare to what she’s going to have to live with the rest of her life,” Dullea said.
“This tragic case illustrates all too well how drinking and driving not only cuts short a young life but has a lasting impact on surviving family members and friends,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said in a prepared statement.
Prosecutor Jane Prince described how Griffin, later found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.14, veered over the fog line along the side of Boston Street around 3:30 a.m. on the morning of June 16.
Her Chrysler PT Cruiser slammed into the back of an illegally parked flatbed tow truck.
Prince said the hood of the Chrysler went under the truck. The metal bed of the tow truck sheared through the windshield and passenger-side pillar of the car, where Renard was sitting.
A shaking and crying Griffin was outside the car when police arrived, frantically asking, “Is he dead? It’s my fault. It’s my car.”
Griffin told police she hadn’t wanted to drive that night, after drinking two beers and two vodka/Red Bull mixed drinks at a house party that both she and Renard had attended. But, she said, Renard was drunker.
A test during his autopsy later confirmed that he had a blood alcohol level of .24 when he died of what a medical examiner called “blunt head and neck trauma.”
His brother Matt Rubner, in a victim-impact statement, was more direct: His brother was decapitated.
Police found an open beer can in the car and another one, empty, outside the passenger-side door.
“I’m sorry,” Griffin told police at the scene.
Renard’s family doesn’t think she was punished severely enough.
“Dillon got a death sentence for getting in the car with you that night; we received a life sentence because our pain has overcome our lives and will never go away, will never, ever go away,” Cherie Rubner said in a written victim-impact statement read by a cousin, Joseph Keith. “I just can’t seem to rationalize how the loss of a license or a couple of years in jail is a rational punishment.”
“It makes no sense,” Matthew Rubner said. “It makes me sick.” He told the judge that the family had hoped for an indictment and a trial.
“We want the truth and the facts to come out,” he said.
“I wanted it to go to trial,” a still-upset Cherie Rubner said outside court. “They made it seem like we agreed to that. How many more kids have to lose their lives before the law changes?”
She’s hoping to have legislation filed to increase the penalty for vehicular homicide while under the influence.
While a small group of family and friends of Griffin attended yesterday’s hearing, the larger group of Wiccans who had come to court to show support for Griffin was not present. Griffin had worked at a local business and was a close family friend of Christian Day, the local Wiccan businessman who helped her pay for a lawyer.
There had been tension between the two groups during past court hearings, and Renard’s family had picketed outside Day’s shop, Hex. He has said he was trying to aid a friend, not condone her actions.
“There are no winners in a case like this,” Dullea outside court yesterday. “Everyone loses.”
Renard’s cousin, Corey MacCuish, recently wrote an essay for his high school English class. He brought it to court yesterday.
“This is my strongest reason for being against drinking and driving,” he wrote. “Drunk driving frightens me because it made me lose the most amazing, loud, outspoken, crazy, dare-deviling cousin in the world.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.