Woman sentenced in 2013 N.H. bike deaths

Darriean Hess, 20, of Seabrook, N.H., made no statement during her sentencing hearing Monday.
Rich Beauchesne/pool
Darriean Hess, 20, of Seabrook, N.H., made no statement during her sentencing hearing Monday.

BRENTWOOD, N.H. — On a September evening, Tom Rogers gave his wife a hug and wished her good luck. She was headed to New Hampshire early the next morning to take part in a 100-mile bicycle ride wending along the coastline.

Around 10 a.m., a police officer called their home in South Hamilton. There had been a terrible accident in New Hampshire. Four bicyclists had been badly injured. One of them might be his wife. The woman had no identification. Could he send a photo?

Rogers e-mailed the photo. Twenty agonizing minutes later, the police officer called back. The woman was his wife, the officer said.

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“She was dead,” Rogers said.

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Rogers recounted the memory Monday afternoon at the sentencing hearing of the women who caused the traffic accident that claimed the life of Rogers’s wife, Pam Wells, the controller for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and that of Elise Bouchard, a 52-year-old customer service manager of Danvers, and left two others badly injured.

A judge sentenced Darriean Hess, a 20-year-old from Seabrook, N.H., to 15 to 40 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault.

Hess made no statement. She sat with her head bowed, her long hair tumbling into her face, and answered the judge’s questions in whispers so quiet that the judge had to prompt her several times to speak more loudly.

Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said the penalty was among the harshest levied in the state’s history for a motor vehicle homicide. The harshness was appropriate, she said, because of Hess’s driving speed, her awareness that there was a road race that day, and the drugs, including Fentanyl and Klonopin, investigators determined were in her system at the time of the crash.

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“There were aggravating factors,” Conway said.

On Sept. 21, 2013, a clear and sunny day, Wells and Bouchard, along with their friends, Margo Heigh, a 54-year-old dental hygienist and, Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, were riding bicycles north on Route 1A in Seabrook as part of the Granite State Wheelmen Seacoast Century.

At 8:30 a.m., Hess crested the Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge. As she traveled down the other side, she crossed a double yellow line, entered the northbound lane, and crashed into the bicyclists.

Hess, who had no driver’s license, had been stopped for speeding in nearly the exact spot hours before the fatal crash, at 12:41 a.m. She had been driving 59 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. After the stop, Hess called Cindy Sheppard, who took her car keys and brought her back to her apartment in nearby Hampton where she supplied Hess with Fentanyl. At 7:30 the next morning, Hess awoke and began making her way back home across the bridge.

“How stubborn, selfish, and arrogant of you,” Robert Bouchard, the brother of Elise Bouchard, said in court of Hess’s decision to get back in the car that morning after being given a “wake-up call” shortly after midnight.

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Bouchard said their father had passed away a year after his sister’s death.

‘I know it’s impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, but eighteen years felt right.’ --Kim Wells, brother of victim Pam Wells

“I hope someday you can realize the scope of pain you have caused by your selfish actions,” he said.

Heigh, who sustained injuries to her leg that cause continuing pain, breathed deeply before addressing Hess directly as well.

“The world is a backward place today,” she said, leaning away from the lectern to peer at Hess, who kept her head down. “I’m not sure what my friends would say to you. They would probably be kinder and more forgiving of you than me.”

She encouraged Hess to use her time in prison to change her life and that of others.

“I hope you share this story, this horrible story, and teach others the consequences of bad choices,” she said.

Conway said that in formulating a sentence recommendation, the state had taken into consideration Hess’s personal history.

“I understand that the defendant is young and had a troubled background,” Conway said.

Hess lived in Washington state until her father went to prison on charges of raping a relative. Her mother moved the family to Seabrook, N.H., but suffered from alcohol abuse. She died of an overdose when Hess was 13.

Still, some victims said the minimum sentence should have been longer.

“I know it’s impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, but eighteen years felt right,” Kim Wells, Pam Wells’s brother, said in his victim statement.

Wells said he can no longer listen to classical music. It reminds him too much of his sister, a trained pianist.

“I’ve lost the ability to enjoy joy,” Kim Wells said.

Cassandra Clifton, Hess’s sister, said she and her siblings had gathered with Hess the night before the sentencing hearing. She stayed with Hess overnight. Hess stayed awake pacing.

On her Facebook page earlier, Hess posted a note.

“I will be leaving on Monday so anyone who wants to come see me or say goobye before i go just inbox me or call/text if you have my number im also selling my beloved snowboard if anyone is interested.”

More coverage:

N.H. woman charged in fatal crash into bicyclists will plead guilty

On way to disaster, a life of wrong turns

Two cyclists dead after car strikes bike ride in N.H.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at sarah.schweitzer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahSchweitzer