PAW PAW (WWJ/AP) - A drunken driver who killed three people in a crash in southwestern Michigan expressed remorse and then broke down in tears Friday as he was sentenced to at least 19-years in prison.
A Van Buren County judge followed the plea deal worked out by a prosecutor and 32-year-old David Johnson, whose blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit in the November crash.
“I know what I did and there’s no way I can pay it back. … I’m truly sorry,” Johnson said.
The victims were 24-year-old Brittney King, of Bangor, and two young sisters, 2-year-old Kandice Berryhill and 4-year-old Cassadi Berryhill, of South Haven. Their father, Justin Berryhill, survived the crash.
“People keep telling me that I need to forgive you,” Berryhill told Johnson. “But to me, the forgiveness means it’s OK and what you did is not OK. You took the lives of three beautiful girls. I can’t stand the sight of you.”
Johnson received a sentence of 19 to 50 years in prison for second-degree murder. He will be eligible for parole consideration after the minimum sentence is served.
“This case speaks in my mind to the horrors of substance abuse,” Judge Kathleen Brickley said. “Untreated, it wreaks havoc on an individual, a family, a community.”
Belinda Quinones read a statement mourning her two granddaughters and asking Johnson to get help in prison for alcohol abuse.
“You can be a testimony for our girls. I am begging you not to let them die in vain,” she said.
The crash happened Nov. 13, 2012, in Van Buren County’s Geneva Township, east of South Haven. Police say Johnson was heading westbound and tried to pass a car in an oncoming lane when he collided head-on with the car driven by King.
Police said the children weren’t riding in child safety seats, and King, Johnson and Justin Berryhill weren’t wearing seat belts. A Michigan State Police crash reconstructionist testified that he believed the kids would have survived the crash had they been in proper child-restraint seats.
State records show that both King and Johnson had a suspended driver’s license at the time of the crash.
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