A heartfelt exchange between a convicted drunken driver and the woman he severely injured in a March crash created a dramatic scene in Erie County Court on Friday morning.
“That’s pretty sobering, isn’t it?” Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico said of the unscripted remarks, shortly before he sentenced Matthew T. Miller, of North Tonawanda, to up to four years in prison.
The 31-year-old Miller’s vehicle smashed into a parked car at 60 mph while he was drunk last winter. Authorities have said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit, about four hours after the March 14 incident on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Miller pleaded guilty in May to first-degree vehicular assault.
Shara A. Armprester, now 23, who suffered a broken nose, femur and ribs, a knee injury and internal injuries in the crash, stood up in court, without notes, looked directly at Miller and offered a soft-spoken plea for him to change his ways.
“I can forgive, I do forgive you, because I don’t want to have any hate or animosity in my body,” the Buffalo woman told him. “But when are you going to learn?
“It’s hard to understand why you did this,” she added.
Armprester said it was difficult to want somebody to go to jail. But she cited two factors that made the crime worse: that Miller fled from the scene and that this wasn’t his first alcohol-related conviction.
“He left me for dead,” she told the court. “And he didn’t learn from the first time he did it.”
With scars still on her hands and face almost five months after the crash, Armprester wakes up every day in pain, looks in the mirror and says, “I’m not the same.” She hates smiling, because of the way her new teeth look.
Kelley A. Omel, chief of the Erie County district attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, told the court that as a result of injuries suffered in the crash, Armprester may not be able to have any more children. Following the crash, Armprester didn’t get to see her son, who was 2 at the time, for two weeks.
“It’s not fair,” she told Miller. “It’s not right. I hope you can somehow make better decisions.
“I know you didn’t care about me that day,” she added. “But you have to care about yourself.”
Armprester then ended her remarks with something she and Miller have in common.
“I’m blessed, and you’re blessed, too, because we’re both here,” she told him.
Miller’s defense attorney, Leonard E. Krawczyk Jr., called Armprester’s statement one of the most gracious and honest he’s heard in court, before adding that his client is “truly, truly remorseful” for his actions.
“I truly believe that he finally has acknowledged he has a problem with alcohol,” Krawczyk told the court.
A few minutes later, Miller turned to Armprester to say he’s “really sorry” for what he did and hopes to make up for his mistakes. And he admitted that he can’t express the compassion he feels for what she has lost.
“I just hope that your family can forgive me and some day you can forgive me, and that you go on to lead a happy life,” he told his victim. “I just wish that you get well. I’m sorry.”
D’Amico, after calling those remarks sobering, said he was glad that the court could hear from a surviving victim in this case.
“Punishment is one thing and self-punishment is something else,” the judge told Miller. “When you are confined, you should think about not only her, but about yourself.”
D’Amico then sentenced Miller to 16 months to four years in prison and revoked his driver’s license, and the defendant was led away in handcuffs.