HAVERHILL — A Methuen man charged in the 2018 death of 17-year-old Jordan Rankin will spend up to six months in jail after pleading guilty.
Owen Foote, 20, of 105 North St. and his defense lawyer, Benjamin Urbelis, appeared before Haverhill District Court Judge Stephen Abany on Tuesday.
Rather than take his case to trial, Foote pleaded guilty to motor vehicle homicide. He was also found responsible for the civil charges of speeding, running a stop sign and failure to wear a seat belt.
In the Sept. 24, 2018, crash, police said Foote was driving more than twice the speed limit in a 2017 Chevy Silverado pickup truck and blew through the stop sign at the intersection of Liberty and Crystal streets, striking Rankin’s 2005 Chevy Malibu, which had the right of way.
Rankin, a popular girl who participated in various sports at Haverhill High, was heading home after playing in a field hockey game at Trinity Stadium.
Foote also admitted to “looking down” at the time of the crash so that he did not see the stop sign, police said.
At Foote’s arraignment Oct. 31, 2018, in Haverhill District Court, Assistant District Attorney Tom Sholds said the event data recorder from Foote’s vehicle was analyzed by police and showed that five seconds before the crash, Foote was driving at 70 mph in the 30 mph residential zone.
Only a second before the crash, Foote was driving at 60 mph and one half-second before the accident, Foote’s truck was still moving at 47 mph after the brakes had been applied, according to a police report.
A passenger in Foote’s vehicle, Dominik Blanchet, told police he and Foote were familiar with the intersection, Sholds said. Blanchet was in the back seat looking at his phone and looked up as the accident occurred.
“He said he tried to say something, but it was too late,” Sholds said.
At the hearing Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Calvin Skeirik asked that Foote receive the maximum sentence of 2½ years with 18 months to be served and the balance suspended for five years. He also asked for six months house arrest after Foote’s release.
“This was something that was completely avoidable,” Skeirik said in support of his sentencing recommendation.
Urbelis noted that Foote does not have a criminal record and asked that he avoid jail time.
“I want to assure the Rankin family that it may seem that Owen has not had any remorse over the last year, there is not a single day that goes by that he doesn’t think about what happened and what he did,” Urbelis said, indicating the case had taken an emotional toll on Foote.
He said Foote was careless in the way he drove, and that Foote has been in shock ever since the accident.
Urbelis said it was Foote’s choice to plead guilty and give the Rankin family and friends the closure they had been asking for by avoiding a trial that could have taken years.
“We’re asking the court to not send him down a dark, dark path, but instead consider what the court has already said, rehabilitation,” Urbelis said before recommending two years of probation for Foote.
Abany sentenced Foote to 18 months in jail with six months to be served, and the balance suspended for three years.
He recommended Foote serve his time at the correctional alternative center also known as the Farm, a low-security facility in Lawrence, although the Essex County Sheriff’s Department would be the deciding authority as to where Foote serves his sentence, court officials said.
Abany went along with Skeirik’s other recommendations and ordered a 15-year loss of license, that Foote enter and complete the State Courts Against Road Rage for young drivers program, and that he serve 100 hours of community service at a head injury rehabilitation center.
Foote was allowed time to get his affairs in order and is expected to be taken into custody Friday morning.
During the more than two-hour hearing, members of Rankin’s family read aloud victim impact statements, all echoing they had no forgiveness for Foote.
As each statement was read, Foote continued to look down at the table where he sat alongside his lawyer.
Attending the hearing were Rankin’s parents, John and Cindy Rankin, her older sister, Julia, and older brother, Johnny. Also in the courtroom were other Rankin family members as well as the victim’s former lacrosse and field hockey teammates and classmates.
“Jordan was robbed of all the special moments she should have been around to do,” Cindy Rankin said of the events her daughter missed, such as a planned class trip to Italy, her prom, college tours and her high school graduation.
“Thanks to Owen Foote, all we have left is visiting her at the cemetery,” she said. “On Sept. 24, 2018, Owen, you made the conscious choice to drive recklessly down Crystal Street, run a stop sign, crash into my daughter’s car. You were able to walk away from the scene, but our Jordan, unfortunately, was not so lucky.
“As her father and I visit the cemetery every day, we think about all the wonderful things she could have experienced, but instead, we are left looking at Jordan’s name on a headstone, making sure the flowers always look as beautiful as she was.
“I will never forgive you, Owen Foote, for what you took from our family. Any punishment set forth by the judge is nothing compared to the punishment you have put upon us through your reckless actions.”
Following the hearing, John Rankin told The Eagle-Tribune that he and his family can finally begin the process of healing.
“We can just focus on our family and healing and getting better and all the memories that we have of her,” he said. “It’s been an incredible amount of support that we’ve had from the community throughout the entire year, and that’s what really made it possible for us to get up there and speak on her behalf.”
John Rankin said he was relieved that the case is over and that had it gone to trial, it could have dragged on for months and Foote might only have received a modestly more serious a punishment.
“Going to trial, only a few more months might have been added and to weigh that over the length of time we would have to spend preparing for the trial, it just didn’t seem worth it,” he said. “No amount of time is going to bring her back and we just wanted it to end for everybody and just move on.”