GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - A Sparta man whose "reckless, negligent, incomprehensible behavior'' behind the wheel killed two family men in a U.S. 131 construction zone was sentenced Monday to one year in the Kent County Jail.
It was the maximum sentence 63rd District Court Judge Sara Smolenski could give to Patrick Allen Doerr, who had cocaine and opiates in his system when he rammed into a line of slowed vehicles last September while traveling at 83 miles per hour.
"The rippling effect of this devastating crash has reached many, many people,'' Smolenski told a courtroom packed with relatives of the two men killed in the Sept. 10 crash on southbound U.S. 131 near Post Drive NE.
"When you hear the word cocaine, that changes everything,'' Smolenski said. "When you get the details of this, Mr. Doerr, it is so hard to relate to it. There is no explanation for this crash other than your negligence and recklessness.''
A urine test showed that Doerr, 57, had cocaine and opiates in his system. Test results could not be used in the criminal case because the urine sample was not obtained with a search warrant. As a result, prosecutors could only charge Doerr with moving violation causing death, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Drugged driving causing death is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That caused outrage among the families of John Pomeroy, 49, and William Kochis, 30, co-workers travelling from Traverse City to Grand Rapids on business. They were in the first vehicle struck and died at the scene. Seven vehicles were involved in the chain-reaction accident.
"John was robbed. We were robbed,'' Mary Jo Pomeroy said in a victim impact statement. "My family has a long way to go; our hearts are broken. I hope forgiveness will come from my children and me some day.''
She and her husband, who have four children, would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary next month.
"John was the love of my life,'' Mary Jo Pomeroy said, choking back tears. "He had beautiful blue eyes and his smile could light up a room. John showed me what true love is. He was patient, he was gentle, generous and loving. He was my rock.''
Shannon Kochis brought her children into court to show Doerr the faces of those who don't understand why their father died. The preschool aged kids sleep with photos of their father, she told the court. Several people, including the judge, dabbed their eyes with tissue.
After hearing about the accident, Kochis loaded the couple's children into the car and drove from Traverse City to Grand Rapids.
"I'm packing clothes, shoes, anything I could think of, pictures to bury with my husband,'' she said while looking directly at Doerr.
Kochis was told she could not see her husband's body because it was now part of a criminal investigation.
"I couldn't even see him that day,'' she told Doerr. "Do you know what they were doing with him? They were doing an autopsy on Billy. They cut him open to see if he was doing any drugs and alcohol. But they let the (suspect) go that killed him.''
Doerr, who uses a portable oxygen tank, at times wiped his eyes while the victim's families spoke. In a brief statement, Doerr said "there are no words to express the sorrow I feel for the Kochis and Pomeroy families.''
"I pray for peace and comfort for them daily,'' Doerr said. "I pray every day for forgiveness for the grief that I've caused these two families as well as my own family.''
Doerr's attorney, Larry Willey, said his client is as "good, law-abiding person with no criminal record.''
Since the accident, Doerr has gone through a series of medical issues "that resembles what Job went through in the Bible,'' Willey told the court. Doerr suffered a fractured spine and fractured sternum in the accident.
"Unrelated to the accident, he suffered a stroke, he had lung cancer, he had a lung removed and in between he had a bleeding ulcer, and now with one good lung he has COPD,'' Willey said. "This is a person who medically, is questionable. And I don't think I'm being ultra-dramatic to say to the court that jail time could be a life sentence.''
Smolenski was unmoved.
"The inexplicable no braking at the scene of the crash – the evidence of the speed . . . Even giving you every benefit of the doubt, there is no other explanation for this crash other than your own negligence and recklessness,'' Smolenski said.
The judge also had some pointed comments for Michigan State Police investigators.
"A lot has been discussed regarding your urine sample at the hospital, and clearly more tests should have been done,'' Smolenski said. "There is no question about it.''
Outside of court, John Pomeroy's older brother Paul said a "botched'' investigation that could only sustain a misdemeanor charge "is absolutely mortifying.''
Doerr benefited from what both families believe is a miscarriage of justice, Paul Pomeroy said.
"I think that he's incredibly lucky with the sentencing,'' Paul Pomeroy said. "it's absolutely a joke - one year sentences to run concurrently. I feel it's fine that he is remorseful for what he did, but I think he's incredibly lucky as well.''