Joseph Ayer was sentenced to up to four years in prison Thursday for the reckless motorcycle crash that killed his passenger, Chelsea Olsen, 24, earlier this year.
But before he heard the maximum sentence pronounced, the 30-year-old Cheektowaga man turned directly to Olsen’s mother and apologized.
“I would die a thousand deaths to bring her back,” Ayer said. “I’m so sorry. I ask for your forgiveness.”
The length of the sentence did not matter to Olsen’s mother.
“It’s not going to change the outcome,” Janet Olsen said.
She was the first to speak at the hearing. She turned the rostrum toward the defense table so she could look at Ayer as she spoke, and though she was emotional, she did not unleash angry words.
She asked just one thing of Ayer: Do something every day to honor her daughter’s memory. It could be that he simply offers a small, nice gesture every day to anybody.
“It doesn’t have to be world-changing,” she said.
Each day, just say hello to someone, give a nod, smile at someone, or do anything to make a person feel important, she told him.
“I won’t know if you will ever honor my request, but I think Chelsea will know,” Olsen told him.
Ayer looked at the mother as she spoke. “I don’t hate you,” she told him. “I can’t hate you.”
If she thought it would make her feel better, she would have tried to hate him, she said.
Olsen said she was affected when Ayer turned and spoke directly to her. “It meant something,” she said. “And that was important to me.”
Police said Ayer was traveling at 85 mph and weaving in and out of traffic before he crashed March 20 on Route 400 in West Seneca, killing his passenger.
He previously pleaded guilty to a criminally negligent homicide charge for the crash.
Neither alcohol nor drugs were factors in the crash. But Ayer’s excessive speed and recklessness killed Olsen, prosecutor Bethany A. Solek said.
Olsen died instantly after the motorcycle hit a pickup truck. Both vehicles were northbound on Route 400, between Transit and Union roads, when the crash occurred at about 10 p.m. Ayer sought to pass the pickup truck on the right, and then the truck changed lanes.
“This is not a tragic accident but a serious criminal offense that demands justice,” Solek said before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.
Olsen’s family described her as a fun-loving and spirited young woman, someone who made anyone who knew her feel like her best friend.
She graduated from nursing school at the University at Buffalo, and she had been working in the cardiac intensive care unit at Millard Fillmore Hospital. She was raised in Trumansburg, a village about 12 miles from Ithaca.
Hundreds of people attended her memorial in the ballroom of an Ithaca hotel.
She came here several years ago after teaching in Russia.
Olsen and Ayer had been friends for only a couple of months before the fatal crash.
Ayer’s sentence will be tacked onto the time he owes for a parole violation. Ayer was convicted of attempted burglary in 2004, a crime he said he committed when he was “young and foolish.”
Ayer said he sought the minimum sentence so that he could resume financially supporting his children. Since his earlier conviction, Ayer has worked full time and attended night classes.
“I’m not a monster,” he said, calling himself a God-fearing man. “Chelsea was my friend, and I feel awful.”