Driver pleads guilty, apologizes for trooper’s death
BROCKTON — It has been more than a decade since the lives of William Senne and Ellen Engelhardt intersected in a violent crash that would ultimately end her life and alter his.
On Wednesday, in Plymouth County Superior Court, the case of Commonwealth v. Senne finally came to a close when Senne, now a 29-year-old businessman, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the death of Engelhardt, a state trooper.
Judge Charles J. Hely sentenced Senne to 2½ years in jail but suspended it to time already served.
The plea deal ends the high-profile case whose victim was the first female state trooper killed in the line of duty. And it ends more than a decade of legal issues for Senne, who was 18 in 2003 when the crash took place on Route 25 in Wareham.
Though Engelhardt’s only child, Lora Tedeman, was not in the courtroom, the prosecution noted that she was not seeking further punishment for Senne, who had already pleaded guilty in 2005 to lesser charges and served 2½ years in the Plymouth County House of Correction.
In 2005, Senne pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and causing bodily injury while driving drunk. After eight years in a vegetative state, Engelhardt died in a Middleborough nursing home in 2011. Upon the death, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz brought a new charge of vehicular homicide against Senne.
“I’m glad for the family that hopefully there is now some closure on this very long event,” Cruz said Wednesday. “I hope I never have to deal with Mr. Senne professionally again.”
Senne’s relief was also obvious.
“I’m glad this chapter is over,” Senne said after the hearing. He said he pleaded guilty because “it’s the right thing to do, and it puts this behind me.”
Under the new plea, Senne will serve three years of probation and perform 500 hours of community service. Under the 2005 sentence, he served five years of probation and did 500 hours of service, but prosecutors asked for another 500 hours, this time with him talking to teens about drunken driving and volunteering at a facility for traumatic head injuries.
If found guilty of vehicular homicide at trial, Senne could have faced up to 15 years in prison.
Tedeman could not be reached for comment. Only Engelhardt’s cousin, Sheila Faiella, was in court.
“I thought a little more [jail] time would have been good for him,” said Faiella, who lives in Marshfield.
No troopers were at the hearing but Colonel Timothy P. Allen, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, said in a statement that “We hope, most of all, that the Engelhardt family finds solace in their warm memories of Ellen and in the stellar regard with which her memory is held throughout the Massachusetts State Police.”
Engelhardt was one of the first women to serve on the State Police force. At 6 a.m. on July 26, 2003, she had pulled off Route 25 in Wareham to examine a guardrail as part of an investigation into an earlier accident.
Senne, who grew up in Wayland, was driving to his summer job teaching sailing lessons on Cape Cod when he smashed into Engelhardt’s car at nearly 100 miles per hour. Senne said he has no recollection of the crash and had been awake nearly 24 hours before falling asleep at the wheel of his father’s Volvo.
Assistant District Attorney Frank Middleton told the judge Wednesday that Senne had a .05 percent blood-alcohol level four hours after the accident. Under Massachusetts law, the limit for those under 21 is less than .02 percent.
Engelhardt was 58 when she died. In asking for a 4- to 5-year sentence, Middleton said: “It was horrific, regardless of who the victim was. Luckily, more people were not killed or injured that morning.”
Senne’s attorney, Daniel O’Malley, told the judge that Senne had become a solid citizen. “Unlike a lot of people incarcerated who sometimes use their plight as an excuse to fail, Mr. Senne stepped up, satisfied five years of probation, did 500 hours of community service, and more,” O’Malley said. “He opened Point Plus Realty in Cambridge, where he employs two dozen people.”
In an interview after the hearing, Senne said he had never evaded responsibility for the crash. “I want people to know that I’m still 1,000 percent apologetic and I’m committed to living a life that is out of respect for the damage I have caused.”
As for repeating the community service requirement, Senne previously volunteered more than 500 hours at Accelerated Cure Project, a Waltham nonprofit seeking a cure for multiple sclerosis. In 2005, Engelhardt’s family had requested he work with brain trauma victims. But Senne said he was unable to find a place that would accept a felon and hopes he can now.
Senne’s parents, who were in the courtroom, expressed relief at the resolution.
“Nine years and nine days ago, we were here in this courtroom with the same people,” said his mother, Bernadette Downey. “This is a respectful resolution for all involved.”
Correction: A caption accompanying a previous version of this story misidentified the man seated with William Senne’s mother, Bernadette Downey. It was his stepfather, Charles Myer.