The mother of seven-month-old Baylee Marie Dion recalled her as a blue-eyed angel, “ripped from me” by a drunken driver guilty of “killing my perfect baby.”
Denise Hine, Baylee’s mother, asked a judge Wednesday to impose the maximum prison sentence upon Danielle N. Kellogg, who admitted causing the November crash that killed Baylee.
“This is a selfish person who needs to pay for her crime,” Hine told the judge.
Erie County Judge Michael D’Amico agreed with the request, sentencing Kellogg to 15 years in state prison.
Kellogg, 24, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in March.
“I wish every day I could take everything back and start over,” Kellogg tearfully said to Baylee’s family in the packed courtroom. “I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry.”
“I know I did wrong,” Kellogg said. “I’m ready to do what I have to do. I’m sorry.”
D’Amico listened to Kellogg’s tearful apology, as well as Hine’s heart-wrenching accounts of the crash and the aftermath.
Baylee’s family reacted to the maximum sentence with hugs and gasps of relief.
“Amazing,” Hine said afterward outside the courtroom. “Maybe we can all start to heal.”
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III praised D’Amico’s sentence, which he hopes sends a strong message that drunken driving will not be tolerated.
But Sedita said he is skeptical about how much this case will resonate, because those who choose to drive drunk make the decision when their judgment is impaired.
“No matter how aggressive we are and how much attention is paid to it, it keeps happening again and again,” Sedita said.
Kellogg’s blood-alcohol content was at least 0.13 percent – well above the legal limit – at the time of the Nov. 27 crash on Southwestern Boulevard in the Town of Brant, said Assistant District Attorney Bethany A. Solek.
Kellogg was behind the wheel of a 2003 Ford Explorer registered to a Fredonia man at about 9:05 a.m., when she crossed over the center line on the Seneca Cattaraugus Reservation. She struck a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am driven by Hine of Hamburg. Baylee was in a car seat in the back.
Kellogg admitted to authorities that she drank several beers, smoked marijuana and had been falling asleep prior to the crash, Solek said. She also had cocaine in her system at the time, putting everyone on the road in danger, Solek said.
“Baylee was caught in the cross hairs and paid with her life,” Solek said.
After the crash, Hine and Baylee were taken to separate hospitals. On Wednesday, Hine said she could not be with Baylee to hold her hand during her last breath.
She also talked about how afraid she is now to drive anywhere.
She recounted how her family released balloons into the sky on Baylee’s birthday in April so her daughter could enjoy them in heaven.
Hine described how Baylee’s death has affected her two other children, a 4-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son.
Her daughter talks about Baylee every day, she said. Hine told the judge how the girl sometimes says to her, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t go to heaven today?”
“I think Danielle can sit in jail for 15 years and think about what she did,” Hine said during Wednesday’s hearing. “I will never heal fully and neither will my family.”
Kellogg also has a 2009 conviction for driving impaired in Chautauqua County, Solek noted. “She’s been down this road before. She was granted a reprieve the first time,” Solek said. “Yet here we are.”
Thomas Casey, Kellogg’s attorney, asked the judge for “balance” in the sentence. He pointed to Kellogg’s grief in a letter she wrote to Baylee’s family, which he read aloud in court.
“If I could,” Kellogg wrote in the letter, “I would give up my life in a heartbeat to have your beautiful daughter back with you.”
Kellogg has attended 21 counseling sessions since the crash, where she has wrestled with her “depression, guilt and self-loathing,” Casey said.
Baylee’s family was not moved by Kellogg’s remorse. “It’s been a nightmare,” Scott Dion, Baylee’s father, said outside court. “Every single day you wake up – flashbacks. You think it happened the night before.”
The courtroom was packed with friends and family members of both Baylee and Kellogg.
“There’s not much I can say to add to what’s been said here by everyone,” D’Amico said. “The devastation is everywhere. Look around. There’s not a dry eye in the courtroom.”