Deborah Drewniak made her way to the witness stand to testify about a crash that broke nearly every bone in her body. In 2011, Emma Vieira hit Drewniak with her car, admittedly distracted by a text message. The now 20-year-old driver is up for sentencing and the judge wanted to hear how the victim is doing.
"This hardship is definitely the hardest experience I have faced during my 54 years of living," Drewniak's little sister, Elizabeth Brigante, read from a statement Drewniak wrote.
Brain and nerve damage make Drewniak's words too hard to decipher.
"She has handed me and my family and the people I know a life sentence resulting from her inability to drive responsibly," Brigante read.
Drewniak's family described a newfound stress following the crash. The once independent woman is now totally reliant on her siblings for everyday tasks.
"All I have ever wanted to see is remorse and to say you are sorry. We have never seen that," said Karen Drewniak, Deborah's sister-in-law.
In October, Vieira pled guilty to gross negligent operation with serious injury resulting and struck a deal with prosecutors that limited her jail time.
Tuesday, Drewniak and her family finally got the tearful apology they've been waiting for.
"I am sorry, Deborah," Emma Vieira said. "I wish I could take all your pain away and I do wish I could take your spot and give you your life back. I never meant for any of this to happen."
"I don't know what I'll do if my daughter goes to jail. She's my world," said Regina Vieira, Emma's mom.
Regina Vieira defended her daughter, describing her as a sensitive, caring kid. She begged the judge to spare her from jail time.
"There's rough people in there and it's not going to better her," Regina Vieira said.
"Although I'm not a great believer in general deterrence, I don't want word to get out that it's OK to text and drive," Vt. Superior Court Judge Michael Kupersmith said.
The judge sentenced Vieira to 30 days in jail, 5 months home confinement and 5 years probation. Outside court, Deborah Drewniak said she was happy with the sentence and hopes drivers will learn one lesson from her tragedy: "If your car is on, turn you phone off. The distractions are too costly to justify facing," she said.
Vieira won't go directly to jail, but her home confinement will start Wednesday. The judge says her 30-day sentence must be served consecutively, not broken up on weekends like lawyers wanted. But he says he'll be flexible on the start date given her mom's upcoming surgery that will temporarily leave Emma as the primary caretaker for her 5-year-old brother. Vieira will also be required to take a defensive driving course and complete 500 hours of community service, half of which can be spent doing household chores for Drewniak, if Drewniak approves it. Additionally, Vieira will be required spend 100 hours talking to high school students about her experience and the dangers of distracted driving.
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