Shawn Burritt, 32, entered a packed courtroom Monday afternoon to enter his plea of guilty in the drunk driving death of Nick Fournier, 18, of Swanton. He came face to face with Fournier's grief-stricken family.
"How do I begin to speak of the senseless death of my son, Nicholas? I prayed to God and Nick to give me the strength to speak. I have to do this for him," said his mother, Cathy Fournier.
She expressed her pain for the loss of her son and her frustration with a system that allowed a three-time drunk driver-- who'd lost his license to drive for life-- and nevertheless was still able to get behind the wheel of a car after consuming eight to nine beers before heading the wrong way down Interstate 89. Nick Fournier was a passenger in the car full of college kids that November night when it was hit head on. He died at the scene.
"I can't describe the hurt and pain we felt. I kept looking at him... so still. He had cuts on his hands. I put my hand on his. I prayed, I prayed he would open his eyes and smile at me. I prayed so hard," said Cathy Fournier.
One by one, Nick Fournier's family and friends spoke of the need for tougher drunk driving laws and urged Shawn Burritt to try to do some good while serving his sentence. He then addressed the courtroom.
"I hope there will be more laws and more programs to help prevent this tragedy from happening again. I am truly sorry for what I've done and I hope that someday you all will find peace," Burritt said.
That's a tough call for a family who's lost a son, a brother, a grandson. They left the courtroom and closed this chapter of their tragedy. They said Burritt will serve 10 years, while they serve a life sentence.
Three of the five charges against Burritt were dropped as part of the plea deal. He will serve 10 of the 10-to-20 year sentence imposed as opposed to more than 30 if he'd been convicted by a jury on all counts.
The Fournier family agreed to the plea deal to avoid the further emotional pain of a trial. And though ten years is far short of the maximum Burritt could have faced, it is the second longest sentence ever handed down in Vermont for fatal drunk driving. Douglas Gardner was sentenced to 10-to-30 years in jail back in 1991 in the drunk driving death of Billy LaBier. At the time, Gardner had seven prior DWI convictions.
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