on January 30, 2013 - 3:40 PM
No tickets were written or charges filed against Michael Haug when Town of Tonawanda police stopped the off-duty sheriff’s deputy in 2009 for erratic and possibly impaired driving.
Wednesday, that break helped add anywhere from eight months to two years to Haug’s prison sentence.
The former Erie County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to two to six years in prison for striking and critically injuring a motorcyclist Aug. 4 while driving drunk at Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue in Amherst.
Haug, 29, of Kenmore, was off duty at the time of the crash.
He had faced anywhere from probation to up to seven years in prison for severely injuring Daniel J. Colosimo, 37, of the Town of Tonawanda.
When Haug pleaded guilty in November to vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk did not promise any sentence, keeping open the full range of options. But the judge, at the plea hearing, said he was leaning toward capping any prison sentence at 1 1/2 to four years, pending any new information.
Franczyk said Wednesday that learning about the 2009 incident “hit me between the eyes” and cited it as one of the reasons he opted for a longer sentence for Haug’s crimes last summer.
“You were shown a professional courtesy [in 2009],” Franczyk said. “I don’t think that did you any favors.”
If he had faced charges from the 2009 incident, that might have taught him a lesson so that he would have avoided driving drunk the morning he struck Colosimo, the judge said.
Haug has said he drank seven beers and seven shots of tequila between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., said Kelley A. Omel, chief of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau.
The crash happened at about 4 a.m. Colosimo was stopped at a red light in the westbound lane of Sheridan at Bailey when he was struck from behind by Haug, who was driving a 2011 Jeep, Amherst police have said.
Colosimo suffered a traumatic brain injury, a torn intestine, leg fractures and bruised internal organs. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center in critical condition and treated for his injuries.
He underwent about a half-dozen surgeries. “With the extent of my injuries, I shouldn’t be here,” he said.
Colosimo was in the courtroom with a dozen friends and family members when Haug was sentenced.
After the judge imposed the sentence, defense lawyer Brian M. Melber asked to review a transcript of the plea proceeding to see if Wednesday’s sentence was different from what the judge had indicated in November he would impose.
The judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer and defendant reviewed the transcript in a jury room while a packed courtroom waited.
After conferring for several minutes, they returned to the courtroom, and Franczyk said the transcript showed that he was not bound by any sentencing promise.
Then Haug was handcuffed and escorted by deputies out of the courtroom, bound for prison.
Colosimo had sought the maximum prison term but said he was pleased by the sentence.
“I’m happy, but it’s never enough,” he told reporters after the court hearing.
Anyone not wearing a badge probably would not have caught a break like Haug received in 2009, Colosimo said.
“Nobody’s above the law,” he said after the hearing. “If it was me or you, we’d get a ticket. We’d get points on our license. They get let go. It’s not right.”
“He shouldn’t have been let go on the first one,” he said. “I’m just lucky I’m here to talk about it.”
He has returned to work part time. “It’s a struggle every day,” he said, noting the aches he has when he awakes in the morning. “I have scars from head to toe.”
Haug, in a short statement before his sentence was imposed, tried to make amends with Colosimo.
“Daniel, I know anything I say right now will never take away the pain,” Haug told him. “I wish you the best.”
Colosimo was not forgiving. “They didn’t mean nothing,” he said of Haug’s remarks.
“Being a sheriff’s deputy, I thought you were supposed to uphold the law,” he said.
Haug refused a blood-alcohol test the morning of the crash, and Amherst police obtained a court order from a judge to have his blood drawn, authorities said. His blood-alcohol content was 0.25 percent, three times the minimum level for a DWI charge.
Haug had been on the force for 5½ years at the time of the crash.
In Haug’s interview with a probation officer for a presentencing report, he said, “I knew I was buzzed but did not think I was drunk,” according to Omel, the prosecutor.
Melber, the defense lawyer, said Haug has tried to make amends for his crimes, speaking at DWI victim-impact panels and meeting with the staff at Headway of Western New York, an agency for people with brain injuries.
“Michael Haug is a good man,” Melber said. “We’re here because he did something that wasn’t good. He blames nobody but himself for what he did that night.”
After the crash, “he didn’t run,” Melber said. “He didn’t hide. He stayed. He stood up. He tried to help. He stayed.”
And he has paid a heavy price: the loss of his reputation and his job. He will never again be a deputy, the career to which he aspired, Melber said. “All of that is gone, forever,” he said.