Everyone lost here. Don’t drink and drive on the water or by car.
Via The Times Herold
Robert Axford lost his wife, his boat and the couple’s “dream of retirement” when a 29-foot Baja powerboat smashed through his cabin cruiser Aug. 3.
“This crime stole our beautiful lifetime dream by obliterating both her and the boat in the blink of an eye,” Axford said inside St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael West’s courtroom Tuesday.
Brandon Verfaillie, the 32-year-old driver of the Baja powerboat, will serve five to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the August crash.
The Chesterfield Township man pleaded guilty in December to two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death and one count of driving while intoxicated causing serious injury.
West sentenced Verfaillie Tuesday to five to 15 years on the first two counts, and two to five years on the third count. He will serve the sentences concurrently.
West said restitution will be decided on a different day, pending a hearing.
A boater for most of his life, West said he had been paying attention to the case almost since it happened.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that had alcohol not been involved in this particular situation, this incident would not have occurred,” West said.
Police have said Verfaillie drove through Axford’s cabin cruiser in the St. Clair River’s South Channel near Harsens Island.
The crash killed Robert Koontz and Nancy Axford and seriously injured Robert’s wife, Marlene Koontz. Robert Axford said his wife was sitting in the rear corner of the dining room when the crash happened.
“It’s hard to really imagine the pain and the terror that she felt during the crash,” Robert Axford said. “… Nancy would have seen that Baja Outlaw coming right at her because of where she was sitting, but been completely unable to move.
“She took the full impact of that Baja face-on and it drove her and the dining room table right through the portside windows, landing in the waters of the St. Clair River.”
Family members of both victims and the defendant filled both sides of the courtroom during the sentencing.
Brandon Verfaillie, a boat driver involved in an August fatal crash, Robert Axford, the husband of a woman killed in the crash, and Lauren Keitz, the daughter of a woman injured in the crash, discuss the incident during Verfaillie’s sentencing. Beth LeBlanc/Times Herald
Verfaillie choked up when he addressed the court.
“I consider myself a person who loves family and friends, and it really pains me that I ended up damaging all of them,” Verfaillie said.
“… I do deeply regret what I did, and I did make the bad decisions that led to it.”
Verfaillie said the powerboat was the first boat he’d ever driven.
James C. Thomas, Verfaillie’s lawyer, said the crash was a tragedy.
“If he could take back what happened on that day, he would,” Thomas said.
A blood test after the crash determined Verfaillie’s blood alcohol content was 0.105. Family members said during the sentencing the blood test was taken hours after the crash.
In a sentencing memorandum, Senior Assistant Prosecutor Mona Armstrong indicated Verfaillie’s driver’s license was suspended at the time of the crash for other alcohol violations.
“Through this whole process I’ve watched the families suffer immeasurably, and it is all the more sad because it was completely avoidable,” Armstrong said.
“With his history, he really should have known the risk he posed.”
Lauren Keitz, Marlene Koontz’s daughter, addressed the court on behalf of her mother. Keitz said, among other injuries, her mother’s lungs were punctured in the crash and her ribs broken.
She said her mother is depressed, anxious and struggling to pay medical bills.
“My mother will never be the same,” Keitz said. “This has been an overwhelming ordeal for everyone involved.”
Axford said he’s received bills from the crash cleanup, and he asked the court to consider the best way for restitution to be made. He expressed concern that other people on the boat with Verfaillie were not charged.
Contact Beth LeBlanc at (810) 989-6259 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @THBethLeBlanc.