By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — John Mitchell and Anthony Mathieu were the best of friends, always at each other’s side.
Or at least until a tragic early morning accident in Derry 17 months ago.
That’s when Mitchell, 25, betrayed his longtime friend and lied to police as he sat in an ambulance after crashing his Honda Civic on Old Manchester Road shortly before 2 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2011.
The Manchester man told police he didn’t know the driver, saying he fled the crash — even though it was really him. Mitchell climbed from the driver’s seat into the back seat, and neglected to tell rescuers about Mathieu, 24, who was later found dead beneath the crushed car.
But Mitchell was apologetic yesterday as Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Kenneth McHugh sentenced him to four to eight years in state prison.
“I loved Anthony — no matter what my poor judgment showed,” he said of the Goffstown man. “He has been the most important person in my life.”
Mitchell pleaded guilty Nov. 29 to negligent homicide and reckless conduct charges as part of a plea bargain.
He has been free after initially being held on $100,000 cash bail. Mitchell waved to sobbing family members and friends, then Mathieu’s family and friends as he was led out of the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy.
“I meant no harm,” he said moments earlier. “It was poor judgment. I’m sorry.”
The same man who has admitted he was extremely intoxicated when he caused the crash that killed his friend told the dead man’s family Mathieu was like a brother to him and they were his second family.
“I couldn’t say that enough,” he said. “Both families are going to be suffering a great loss no matter what.”
Mathieu’s mother, Lynette Shinsato, stood before the judge and told of how her son’s death has devastated his family, including his two brothers, Andre and Aki Mathieu.
“I miss the youthfulness he gave to my life,” she said. “Never would I believe I would bury my baby.”
Shinsato told of how she worried about him as he served two tours of duty as a Marine stationed in Iraq, only to die in a car accident instead — abandoned by his best friend in his time of need.
“I do know if Anthony had been the driver, there would be no man left behind,” she said.
Andre Mathieu said his dead brother used to talk about how close the two friends were.
“He once told me (Mitchell) was just like his brother,” Andre Mathieu said. “As a brother, I would have never left one of my own behind.”
After the crash, Mitchell and a friend of the two men who was a passenger — Brooke Scott, 20, of Derry — were taken to Parkland Medical Center in Derry for treatment of minor injuries.
That’s where Mitchell admitted to a police officer he had been the driver and drank two beers and a scorpion bowl at a Manchester restaurant hours earlier. Beer cans were found near the crashed car, which hit a tree and flipped over.
When Shinsato last saw the two men that night, she told Mitchell to make sure he brought her son home safely since he was the designated driver, prosecutor Bradley Bolton said.
That didn’t happen.
“To crawl in the back seat and not even acknowledge your friend is trapped underneath the car speaks volumes,” said Bolton, who recommended Mitchell serve at least 6 to 12 years in prison.
Scott, who did not attend the sentencing, told police that both men had been drinking when they arrived to pick her up at her home, according to a police affidavit.
Mitchell also received a three- to seven-year suspended prison sentence because of the injuries suffered by Scott.
If convicted of negligent homicide at trial, Mitchell faced seven and a half to 15 years in prison.
Mitchell was convicted of possession of a controlled drug in 2009.