More than two months after pleading guilty to 58 counts and accepting responsibility for a December 2012 crash that claimed the lives of two local teens and seriously injured two others, Dennis Drue will be sentenced in a Saratoga County Courtroom Thursday afternoon. YNN's Matt Hunter offers a look back at the yearlong chain of events leading up to Drue's sentencing.
SARATOGA COUNTY, NY – For four best friends, Christopher Stewart, Bailey Wind, Deanna Rivers and Matthew Hardy, the night of Saturday, December 1, 2012 began in typical teenage fashion. The four student athletes enjoyed a much hyped college basketball game between two of the Capital Region's great rivals, Siena and UAlbany.
By night's end, a tragic automobile crash on the Northway, just a few short miles from their destination in Clifton Park, would rob two of the teens of their lives, leave the other two seriously injured and forever alter the life of the 22-year-old man responsible.
"Christopher Stewart, great kid, Deanna Rivers, great kid,” Shenendehowa Central Schools Superintendent Dr. L. Oliver Robinson told reporters the morning after the crash. “All I can say is God bless them."
"It's just so tragic, so tragic," district athletic director Christopher Culnan said.
In the days that followed, friends, family, classmates and the Capital Region grieved the shocking loss. Many expressed their feelings on social media, while thousands attended a candlelight vigil at Shenendehowa High School where Stewart and Rivers were seniors and prominent athletes. Traveling by ambulance, a tearful and visibly shaken Hardy shocked everyone with his appearance.
That same week, the community said goodbye: First to Rivers and two days later, Stewart.
"She was a great student, a great friend and she had so much ahead of her," said Cass Ogren, a classmate and friend of Rivers who spoke to YNN following the 17-year-old’s funeral at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park.
"I learned so much from him [Stewart] both on the football field and personally," said Warren Shaw, a sophomore teammate of Stewart’s who attended the team captain’s funeral.
After the crash, the public also learned about 22-year-old Dennis Drue, the driver of the other car who police labeled as responsible from the start after he tested positive for alcohol at the scene.
One month later at the Saratoga County Courthouse he pleaded not guilty to 59 counts connected to the crash.
"It is extraordinarily important we make sure justice is done," Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy told reporters after the January 7 arraignment.
"I have no reason to believe that there were crimes committed here based on the information I have," defense attorney Stephen Coffey said following the proceeding.
All along Coffey argued his client was not drunk or under the influence of marijuana as prosecutors charged. As Drue’s late September trial date approached, many anticipated weeks, if not months, of witness testimony.
Then three days before jury selection was set to begin, the unexpected happened.
"He pleaded guilty, he is guilty," Coffey said, quickly summing up the strategy behind Drue’s guilty plea on September 27.
By accepting guilt, Drue and his attorneys agreed to a five to 15 year prison sentence, which will be formally delivered by Judge Jerry Scarano on December 5th, roughly a year after the crash.
Drue’s plea was a shocking twist in a saga that delivered occasional bits of light through impossible darkness. During the yearlong chain of events, there were benefits and basketball games. At Shen vs. Shaker basketball game hosted by Siena College, thousands of dollars was raised for a memorial scholarship fund. Over the summer, a memorial garden was planted in front of the school, all of it casting a blanket of support over the families and two survivors.
"We're so fortunate we live in the community we live in and that we have these folks as our friends and neighbors," Regina Stewart said during the basketball game.
"It's been hard, but all of this coming together makes it a little bit easier," said Bailey Wind, then a senior at Shaker High School.
Perhaps no moment captured how far the community had come better than Shenendehowa's first football game since the crash this September.
As the end drew close, it was Hardy, one of the two survivors, who delivered a message of hope in scoring the game’s final touchdown: Even in the face of tragedy, life does go on.
Drue’s sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Saratoga County Courthouse in Ballston Spa.