Driver in Sweet Tomatoes crash is sentenced to four years in jail
WOBURN — Erica Morin’s toddler daughter has said she wants to be an astronaut, so she can visit her deceased father “in the stars.”
During a wrenching hearing Tuesday, a judge sentenced Bradford S. Casler, the man responsible for the deaths of Morin’s husband and a second pizza restaurant customer, to serve four years in jail.
Casler, 57, was convicted last month of motor vehicle homicide for plowing his SUV into Sweet Tomatoes, a Newton pizza shop, on the evening of Mar. 1, 2016, killing Gregory Morin, 32, and Eleanor Miele, 57. Several other people were badly hurt.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge Merita Hopkins handed down the sentence Tuesday after hearing hours of emotional testimony from the victims’ relatives and Casler’s supporters.
Erica Morin testified that her daughter was only 1 when her husband was killed.
“I lost my husband, my partner, and my best friend,” she said. “We lost our chance to be a family and grow our family.”
Morin fought tears during her testimony and said she had endured panic attacks, depression, and difficulty sleeping after the crash.
“My body, and particularly my hands, shook for months,” she said.
Hopkins also heard from Miele’s brother, Thomas Desmond, who recalled his sister as a selfless woman who helped disadvantaged children and stray animals. She had stopped at Sweet Tomatoes for dinner on the night of the crash before a planned meeting at her church to assemble Easter baskets for kids.
“How can you put into words the pain, the sadness, the grief?” Desmond asked. “You can’t. . . . Our family’s been left with a sense of betrayal.”
His sister and Gregory Morin, Desmond said, were taken by “the reckless disregard of Mr. Casler.”
Casler’s lawyer, Thomas Giblin, argued at trial that his client, who has multiple sclerosis, suffered a medical episode right before the crash and wasn’t criminally responsible when he lost control of his vehicle.
But prosecutors countered that Casler acted recklessly by getting behind the wheel, despite knowing about the risks associated with his physical limitations.
Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Christopher Tarrant reiterated that point Tuesday when he asked Hopkins to sentence Casler to a total of five years in the county jail — consecutive 30-month terms for each death.
“This is negligence born out of vanity and out of hubris,” Tarrant said.
Casler became visibly stricken as he listened to friends, his oldest son, and his younger brother plead for leniency. He’s been in custody since his conviction, and he broke into repeated spasms of weeping as supporters spoke on his behalf, describing him as a devoted father and community volunteer who cared for his ailing mother until her death last month on the eve of his trial.
“He’s someone who truly feels deep remorse for this,” said his son, Zachary Casler, speaking softly and quickly from the witness stand. “He feels nothing but grief.”
Bradford Casler also spoke Tuesday and stated, as he did at his trial, that the crash haunted him daily.
“I was never told not to drive” beforehand, he said. “I would have never put any person in harm’s way.”
He apologized to the victims’ families and said he remains devastated by what occurred.
“I think about this every second that I’m breathing,” Casler said.
In issuing her sentence, Hopkins conceded that Casler has expressed remorse for his actions.
“By his own words, Mr. Casler is burdened by the events of that day for the rest of his life,” Hopkins said from the bench.
But she said Casler should be punished for failing to take into account his own health issues before getting behind the wheel.
She noted that he told a medical provider five months before the crash that his “cognition was terrible,” and that nine weeks beforehand, he reported having “daily, debilitating pain in his right leg.”
Hopkins said she wasn’t suggesting that disabled people shouldn’t drive, but that each person must weigh whether they can operate a vehicle without posing an “unreasonable risk” to the general public.
“The impact on the daily lives” of the victims and their families “is immeasurable,” Hopkins said.
In the end, she ordered Casler, who moved Tuesday with the aid of a walker, to serve consecutive 30-month sentences for each death, with six months of each term suspended. She also sentenced him to 15 years of probation after his release.
Casler received credit for the 22 days he’s spent in jail since his conviction.
Immediately after Hopkins issued her sentence, a relative of Casler’s whispered “Oh, my God,” in the public gallery.
Giblin, who had asked that Casler receive six months of home confinement followed by 200 hours of community service, as well as a lifetime revocation of his driver’s license, blasted the sentence outside court after the hearing.
“They’re sentencing . . . as though he committed an intentional offense,” Giblin said. “They put the illness on trial, and it’s shameful.”
Last year, Casler had rejected a plea deal that called for a two-year sentence in exchange for admitting guilt. Giblin said Tuesday that his client doesn’t regret that decision because it still involved jail time.
“That was more of committed time, and a man with his infirmity is going to have a real hard time doing committed time,” Giblin said.
But Erica Morin and Desmond both said outside court that the sentence was appropriate.
“There’s nothing about this that is helpful,” Morin said, adding that it “was time for us to be able to move on.”
She said she felt Casler had shown “more remorse for how it’s affected his life than how it’s affected our lives.”
Desmond said Casler’s three adult sons spoke to the victims’ families after the hearing and expressed “remorse and their sadness” over the crash.
But he said he didn’t think their father has “ever taken responsibility for this.”
As for Casler’s sons, Desmond said, “I think they are very upset about the whole thing. I think they understand our pain, and certainly I understand their pain.”
Giblin said Tuesday that Casler intends to appeal.