HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona man whose vehicle crashed two years ago into a car of collegians, killing one and injuring four, will spend 3 to seven years in prison.
Jason Eugene Sanders, 33, said Monday afternoon in court that he would rather he had been the one killed instead of 19-year-old Nicole Chauvet of Canonsburg.
"I'm speaking from my heart," Sanders said as he addressed Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan. "I came up over that blind hill. ... There wasn't seconds, there was milliseconds to react," he said.
Sullivan, who presided over Sanders' jury trial in December, showed no leniency.
After hearing from Chauvet's parents and from her friends who were injured in the crash, along with a video presentation of photographs of a courtroom wall, Sullivan levied the harshest prison time available under the state's sentencing guidelines for a third-degree felony.
"I cannot find the words to explain what it means to lose your daughter," Michael Chauvet, Nicole's father, said. "This person should be stopped before he steals the life of another angel."
When Sanders addressed the court, he said he knew what they were feeling.
"I lost my daughter when she was 6. I know what they're going through," he said before starting to cry.
He took his seat without further explanation.
The crash occurred at 6:35 p.m. at Chestnut Avenue and Juniata Gap Road, as the Penn State Altoona students were on their way home from a nearby grocery store. Sanders, in a 2004 Jaguar, hit the passenger side of the women's vehicle, a 2007 Honda Civic, as it was making a turn.
As justification for the sentence, Sullivan referred to testimony that Sanders was driving 20 mph over the speed limit, that he wasn't using headlights, that one person was killed and four were injured and that since the Nov. 1, 2009, crash, Sanders has had two speeding tickets, one of which was issued Jan. 5, 2010.
He ordered Sanders to be taken immediately to Blair County Prison, despite a request for a delay by defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey.
Dickey said he will ask the judge to reconsider the sentence.
"I thought it was excessive. The law is very clear as to what can be used as aggravating factors to go beyond the standard sentencing guidelines." Dickey said. "I don't think we have that in this case."
District Attorney Richard Consiglio said he thought the sentence was warranted based on the death and injuries.
"This is probably the most severe homicide by vehicle case I've ever encountered," the district attorney said.
Nicole Lawrence, a passenger in the vehicle, said the crash left her with a ruptured bladder, five broken ribs and other injuries that have led to four surgeries so far.
"I cannot remember the last day I woke up and didn't take pills for pain," she said. "I'm 20 years old and I don't feel young."
Her father, Kevin Lawrence, recalled seeing his hospitalized daughter on the night of the crash.
"I saw something no parent wants to see," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.