LOCKPORT – There was almost universal praise Friday in Niagara County Court for Pierce L. Abrams – even from the judge who sent him to state prison for drunkenly crashing his car and killing his best friend.
“When you complete your sentence, I am certain you will pick up the pieces of your life and become the spectacular individual and leader everyone expects you to be,” County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas told Abrams, 22, of Printup Road on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation.
Abrams was sentenced to one to three years behind bars for second-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.
His speeding 2008 Suzuki went off Mount Hope Road just east of Green Road about 4:45 a.m. Aug. 19. The westbound vehicle crossed the road and struck a ditch, a culvert and a small boulder before becoming airborne, smashing into a tree and overturning.
Abrams’ passenger, Kyle Atkins, 22, his best friend since middle school, died of his injuries Aug. 24 in Erie County Medical Center. Abrams’ blood alcohol content was measured at 0.22 percent, almost three times the legal threshold for intoxication.
A presentencing report by a Niagara County probation officer recommended a five-year probation sentence for Abrams, to begin with a six-month stint in the County Jail. Farkas rejected that idea in favor of what she called “general deterrence.”
The judge said, “We’re not going to stop people from drinking and driving, unfortunately, but we do minimize it to some extent. We don’t want people to think it’s OK to drink and drive. That can never be the message from the court. I cannot condone a probation sentence in a case such as this.”
That wasn’t what Darelyn Clause, Atkins’ mother, had hoped to hear.
“I was hoping for six months instead of a year,” Clause said. “I was hoping he wouldn’t go to state prison. But I know he’ll grow into a beautiful, wonderful person.”
As an officer was handcuffing Abrams, Clause tearfully walked up behind him and told him, “I love you.”
She had told Farkas before sentencing, “I love Pierce as my own son … I don’t want him charged with manslaughter.”
The families were very close, defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said.
He said Abrams, who had no prior record, won a lacrosse scholarship to Syracuse University, where his father is a professor, but he never played a game because he tore a knee ligament in a practice session.
“He drove too fast and he drank too much. He makes no excuses. He blames no one but himself,” Daniels said.
“I’d like to just apologize. [Clause’s] son died and it was my fault and nobody else’s,” Abrams said. “My parents are teachers. They teach people to live the right way. I let them down.”
The victim’s father, Darrell Atkins, a Navajo who lives on that nation’s reservation in New Mexico, wrote a letter that was read by Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner.
It said in part, “The Navajo Nation and the Tuscarora Nation lost an ambassador … While I can forgive Pierce, he has to be accountable for his actions. That includes going to jail.”
“This is such a waste,” Brenner said. “Both of these young men had such promise.”