11:33 AM EST on Saturday, December 18, 2010
KINGSTOWN –– Laura A. Reale, the drug-addicted Westerly woman who failed to stop at a red light on Route 1 in Charlestown in May, killing motorcyclist Colin B. Foote, was sentenced Friday to serve 8 years of a 10-year sentence in the Adult Correctional Institutions.
“I find that marijuana killed Colin Foote,” Superior Court Judge Edwin J. Gale said in imposing the sentence, which includes substance-abuse and mental-health counseling and, when Reale is released on two years' probation, 200 hours of community service and suspension of her driver's license for five years.
The state's prosecutor, Cindy Soccio, and members of Foote's family had urged Gale to order Reale, 27, to serve the full 10 years — the maximum provided by state law — but the judge rebuffed their pleas, saying he wanted to make sure that once she was released there would be some constraints on her. She'll have to report to a probation officer and practice good behavior for two years or she could wind up back in prison to finish the full 10-year sentence.
Reale, who pleaded guilty last month to a charge of driving to endanger, death resulting, wept through most of the proceedings, which lasted more than two hours. The Westerly High School graduate, who attended but did not finish the Community College of Rhode Island, appeared in court wearing suede sneakers, khaki slacks, a T-shirt and navy blue zip-up sweatshirt, her hands cuffed in front of her.
For the first time, she offered an apology to the Foote family, who sat on the opposite side of the courtroom with many of Colin's friends and the woman he'd planned to marry, his longtime girlfriend, Mallory Kowal.
Reale said she had been devastated by “my senseless actions,” and that “I wish I could trade places with Colin today and take away some of [his family's] pain. … My sorrow is so great and my pain has been endless.”
“There is not one waking hour when I am not consumed with Colin's death” and the effect it has had on his family,” Reale said, reading from a handwritten statement. “I pray for Colin and his family daily” and “tell him how sorry I am. …”
As her parents, Thomas and Diana Reale, sat weeping behind her, their only child told the court that she hoped that someday the Foote family could “find it in their hearts to forgive me” and that God would “give them the peace they deserve.”
The Foote family, in highly emotional statements to the court, characterized Reale as evil, revolting and selfish and questioned whether “she has any goodness inside.” They also chided her and her parents for never contacting them after the accident to say they were sorry –– something defense lawyer Stephen R. Famiglietti later said he had told them not to do while the case was pending.
There was nary a dry eye in the spectator gallery as one by one, those most impacted by the death of Foote –– a 27-year-old cum laude Connecticut College graduate who lived in Charlestown and worked in public relations in Providence –– talked about their loss and poured out their pain.
Prosecutor Soccio showed a Foote family-made DVD capturing Colin's life, from his days as a baby to the night he announced to his parents that he'd landed a full-time job.
His girlfriend, Kowal, had looked forward to having a wedding on Block Island and having children with her high school sweetheart. They had dreams of buying a yellow house and a bulldog but those plans were ruined, she said, “because of Laura Reale.”
Kowal told the court how, on the night of the fatal crash, she rushed to Westerly Hospital where he was pronounced dead and held his hand “as long as they would let me” after he had taken his last breath.
Kowal, who works in the emergency room at Hasbro Children's Hospital offering bereavement counseling to those in need, is now in therapy herself — as are Foote's parents, Richard “Robin” Foote and Maryann Foote. “Getting through just one day [now] is just so daunting and exhausting that I often feel life is not worth living,” said Kowal.
Colin's mother talked about how “a part of me has died” with the loss of Colin and how she's filled “with an angry sense of injustice” and bitterness and that sometimes, she feels like her “longtime investment in Colin” was for nothing.
Maryann Foote was following her son home in her car and, together with her other son, witnessed Colin getting struck. She recounted in court how she knelt over him on the roadway as he lay dying, “barely breathing, his helmet on,” how she prayed silently for him, waiting for a rescue truck, telling him over and over again “that I loved him.”
“And then I saw something bounding towards me as I bent over my son … a face of pure evil,” she said, referring to Laura Reale, who she said offered “some lame excuse” about not seeing the red light she had just run.
Maryann Foote chided the police for failing to adequately patrol Route 1 and urged the court to use her son's case as an example to deter others from habitually violating traffic laws — as Reale did 28 times over 8½ years.
Famiglietti said that from the moment his client hit Colin Foote, she accepted responsibility. “She has a chance to make something of her life,” he said.
Gale –– who said he'd received over 100 letters from people across the country urging him to give Reale the maximum 10 years — said he doesn't believe that the fatal crash was an accident.
“It was a predictable loss of life by someone who [in her pre-sentence report] describes herself as totally irresponsible” and who has been “almost totally self-indulgent, passing through life in a drug-induced fog.”
For over 10 years, Gale said, Reale has been “self-consumed, lazy, without ambition, purpose, addicted” to marijuana [and later, according to Soccio, to Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin.]
The judge said that he doesn't believe Reale is evil but pointed out that she'd candidly admitted in her pre-sentence report that “‘I am not responsible, and I do not have a good work ethic, and I don't want to work.'”
Gale said “it was a result of her chronic marijuana use since age fifteen” that caused this. In a lengthy discourse in which he railed against the evils of marijuana, Gale said: “The defendant was high on marijuana at the time of that fatal crash. She had just had some hits and she planned to have some more” when the accident occurred.
Although she was never charged with any drug offenses in connection with the fatality, Soccio, the prosecutor, said that on the last day of Foote's life, while Colin, his brother and mother were enjoying a day-trip to Block Island, Laura Reale “spent her Sunday with two male companions hanging out at the Krystal Penguin Motel” in Charlestown.
“They smoked marijuana; she left the motel at some point; and then went back and at the end of the day,” she and a friend “went to find a convenience store to buy a blunt to smoke marijuana because” according to her companion, “Laura had a bag of marijuana.”
She was chattering about her ex-boyfriend and not paying attention, Soccio said, when she rode through the red light at West Beach Road and slammed into Foote. “She never hit her brakes, never slowed down … until after she hit Colin.”
Soccio bemoaned the fact that the General Assembly has set such a low maximum sentence for Reale's crime.
Gale said he was upset that Rhode Island now has legalized marijuana for medicinal use even though the people who get it don't know the grower and the growth “will not be inspected” for potency.
Day after day, the judge said, defense lawyers come to him to plead for leniency for clients, saying, “it's only marijuana.” Saying that marijuana today is five times more potent than a generation ago, he asked, “When will our culture wake up and stop pretending that soft drugs are okay?”
The judge urged the media to write more stories about the dangers of marijuana. There are many people out there, he said, who are “lazy” and “irresponsible” and the taxpayers “are supporting their lifestyle, and the family of Colin Foote is paying the highest price imaginable.”
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