By Sara Brown
---- — SALEM, Mass. — Before she was sentenced yesterday to state prison for killing two people in a 2011 drunken driving crash, Shayna Fernandez kept looking over to her mother sitting behind her in Salem Superior Court.
Fernandez’s mother mouthed the words “I love you” to her 23-year-old daughter, as the courtroom waited to hear Fernandez’s fate.
The Lawrence native had just been found guilty of two counts each of manslaughter and motor vehicle homicide in connection with the June 2011 accident on Interstate 93 in Andover. She was also found guilty of motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence and driving recklessly.
She killed Francis O’Hanley Jr., 62, of Saugus, and Joseph Coppola, 57, of Malden. A third victim survived.
Judge David Lowy sentenced her to 3 1/2 to 12 years in state prison, followed by 10 years of probation. During probation, Fernandez cannot operate a motor vehicle. She cannot do drugs and alcohol and will be subjected to random drug testing. She will also have to speak to schools advising them not to drink and drive and to learn from her story.
Fernandez quietly wiped away the tears under her glasses as the judge delivered his sentence.
“She is not being punished for drinking,” Lowy said. “She is being punished for drinking and driving.”
Fernandez drove drunk on June 11, 2011 and hit a car driven by O’Hanley with Coppola as a passenger.
O’Hanley and Coppola’s families suggested that Fernandez share her story with high school students and others in hopes of preventing tragedies like this in the future.
“I am giving you an opportunity to turn this tragedy into something good,” the judge said to a somber Fernandez. “Hopefully, someone can learn from your mistakes.”
In his sentencing argument, Essex County Assistant District Attorney Mike Patten recommended that Fernandez be sentenced to serve 8 to 12 years in state prison due to the fact that two lives were lost as a direct result of her actions.
“There is no doubt she is remorseful. This is not what she intended to happen, but this was preventable,” Patten said.
However, defense attorney John Morris, argued that was too severe of a sentence.
“She did not intend for any of this to happen. Take into consideration she is only 23. She is a young girl who has dreams,” Morris said.
Morris said Fernandez dreams of working with deaf people and helping them. Prior to the accident she worked full-time as a personal care assistant to her severely disabled younger sister.
“Eight to 12 years will change her whole life forever,” Morris argued.
Fernandez’s mother wrote her a note before the sentencing. After reading the note, Fernandez looked over to her mother and sisters for a moment, crying. She tucked the note away inside her pant pocket as she left the courtroom in handcuffs.
“A girl at a tender age with all the hopes and dreams in the world is on her way to state prison,” Lowy said.
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