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By Elizabeth Dinan firstname.lastname@example.org
BRENTWOOD — Tim Copeland was five minutes from home on his 18th wedding anniversary when a reckless driver “changed my life forever,” he testified in Rockingham County Superior Court Friday.
That testimony was given by the state liquor enforcement officer during a Feb. 2 sentencing hearing for the driver, Daniel Bent, 43, of East Walpole, Mass.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Bent was sentenced to serve three to six years in a state prison for the second-degree assault of Copeland, by crashing his truck into the officer’s parked cruiser.
Judge Patrica Coffey also sentenced Bent to three to seven years in prison for three related reckless conduct charges, with that time suspended after 10 years, contingent on his good behavior.
“Your reckless and selfish actions have permanently changed my life forever,” Copeland told Bent during the hearing. “My wife had to view my battered body and witness my immense pain. You’ve deprived me of life’s simple pleasures, including playing sports with my two children. You’ve deprived me of promotional opportunities at work and may have deprived me of my career.”
Stratham firefighter John Sapienza wept as Copeland told Bent he had to make his own “officer down” call from his wrecked cruiser and about his resulting “chronic pain.”
Sapienza was first on the scene of the Stratham crash and helped extricate Copeland from his cruiser, 18 years to the day he danced at Copeland’s wedding.
Prosecutor Jerome Blanchard told the court Bent “drove like a maniac” for 12 miles before the crash, prompting numerous 911 calls from motorists. Some of the callers “felt strong enough” to stop and give witness statements at the crash scene, said Blanchard.
“Officer Copeland thought he was going to die,” said the prosecutor, who reported Copeland has incurred $76,000 in medical expenses, with no end in sight.
Defense attorney Joe Malfitani described Bent as “unsophisticated,” without assets and the father of two — one with autism. Malfitani also submitted a psychiatric report for the court’s consideration describing Bent’s history of substance abuse and his use of an antidepressant at the time of the crash.
Coffey accepted the state’s recommended sentence and ordered Bent to begin his jail sentence immediately, in spite of Malfitani’s request for a delay so Bent could keep a dermatology appointment.
“What you did, sir, defines the term reckless conduct,” said Coffey. “Fortunately for you, you’re not facing multiple counts of homicide.”
In addition to the jail time, the judge ordered Bent to make restitution in an amount to be determined at a later date. She also ordered him to have no contact with Copeland or his family and to seek counseling as directed by the state.
Bent was found guilty on Oct. 17 by a jury, which found he was speeding, swerving and traveling in the breakdown lane of Route 101 on Sept. 6, 2005, before crashing his pickup into Copeland’s parked cruiser.
Following Friday’s sentencing hearing, Copeland said “justice was definitely done today.”
“This was not an accident. This was an incident,” he said. “My goal is to come back.”