WARREN - They were golf buddies, role models for their siblings, church group members and fiances, and they all wanted to serve in the U.S. military.
About 80 family members and friends of three men killed and nine others injured in a March 2010 chain-reaction crash watched Wednesday as Donald Williams Jr. was sentenced to 16 years in prison by Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew Logan. His driver's license was suspended for the rest of his life.
Williams faced 31 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, three counts of aggravated vehicular assault, three counts of vehicular assault and drug possession. Prosecutors asked for 18 years, and Williams' defense attorney J. Gerald Ingram had asked for 6 1/2 years.
Williams was found to have diazepam and nordiazepam in his system when he plowed into the cars stopped at a traffic light on state Route 5 and Burnett Road in Leavittsburg. A video taken during the crash released by the prosecutor's office showed Williams was listening to blasting music, "Burn" by Rob Zombie, and failed to break for more than 500 feet after slamming in the vehicles.
A crash report by the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Williams rammed the back of the Marine recruits' vehicle, forcing it into the oncoming lanes, where it struck a pickup truck. The tractor-trailer rig then collided with two more vehicles in the oncoming lane.
The chain-reaction crash on March 31, 2010, killed Michael T. Theodore Jr., 19, of Howland; Joshua A. Sherbourne, 21, of Southington; and Zachary Nolen, 19, of Newton Falls.
The three, along with another recruit and a recruiter, were headed to Cleveland to finalize their enlistment papers.
Forensic toxicology consultant Laureen J. Marinetti, according to prosecutor's records, said the kind of drugs Williams used that night were part of a class of drugs that sedate and create hypnotic effects, including "drowsiness, mental confusion, lack of vigilance, impaired motor function to include impaired reflexes, coordination.''
Marinetti's report states that Williams took a dose twice the amount that studies show would cause a "significant reduction in alertness and performance "
Logan said his own son six months ago took the same route to enlist in the Air Force.
"There is nothing I can do to adequately address this loss," Logan told the families in attendance. "The three men were doing what was right - starting their lives by serving their country. There is nothing I can do to take away the pain."
Eight family members of victims gave impact statements and one man, Carl W. McDermott III, who suffered spinal fractures in the crash, also spoke before sentencing.
Laureen Theodore, Michael Theodore Jr.'s mother, said her son turned down a chance to play football at Edinburg College to attend Kent State University at Trumbull to be close to his family. She said he got engaged and decided he wanted join the Marines when he learned he could become a chaplain.
Michael Theodore's father, Michael Sr., said he normally drives by the same intersection at the same time when coming home from work but decided to take a more scenic route home.
He said his son "protected the family" while he was away working. He turned to Williams at one point and said he forgave Williams.
"I miss my Mikey with all my heart," Laureen Theodore said as she broke down in tears at the end of her statement.
Jill Sherbourne, Josh Sherbourne's mother, told the court she and Josh were just beginning to repair their relationship following the divorce from his father. Sherbourne said she was looking forward to a family Easter dinner all her children would attend.
"We'll never see him become a husband or a father," she said.
Zachary Nolen's father, John Nolen, said his 10-year-old daughter still idolizes him. He said she picks out a star every night and says it's her brother. He said he cherishes the memories of him and his golfing and talking about life.
McDermitt said before the accident he had been engaged and was planning his wedding. He planned to go to pilot school and be an emergency flight pilot for the Marines. Even after the accident, his mother, Mary said, he believed he could join.
But in May 2011, he received a rejection letter, saying he was permanently barred from joining the military because he suffered two spinal fractures and suffered from vertigo.
He said he was unable to marry because he was so far in debt because of the medical bills, some of which have gone unpaid because he lacked insurance.
I was so excited to start my new life as a Marine and as a husband," McDermott, now 20, said. "Bow now my whole life is on hold because of Donald Williams."