4-year sentence for drunk driver who killed EMT

EMT Donavan Alden, 32, was killed in the March, 2014 head-on collision; less than a month before becoming a paramedic

By David Owens
The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — Dozens of relatives and friends of 32-year-old Donavan Alden, including the paramedics and EMTs with whom he worked and volunteered, filled a Hartford courtroom Thursday to watch as the drunken driver who killed him a year ago was sentenced to four years in prison.

Many in the crowd were dressed in the uniforms of American Medical Response, the company where Alden worked, and the uniforms of some other emergency medical services.

Karen Torres, 34, of New Britain, was drunk and speeding on the afternoon of March 30, 2014, when she rounded a curve on New Britain Avenue just east of New Park Avenue in West Hartford and slammed head-on into Alden's Mini Cooper. Her blood-alcohol content was 0.212 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

She pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle and second-degree assault with a motor vehicle as part of a plea agreement.

Ellen Drugan, Alden's mother, said that losing her son 13 months ago still hurts and that his family and friends are still affected by his loss.

"It's also impacted the people of our Greater Hartford area because there's one less paramedic out there," she said, adding that her son dreamed of continuing his education and becoming a doctor.

"It was clear … he was a positive impact on the community," Judge Joan K. Alexander told Drugan.

Alden's close friend and AMR colleague, Steve Osuch, told the judge that during the two years before Alden died, he had worked hard as an emergency medical technician while going to school to become a paramedic. He had no social life, Osuch said, but studied and worked all the time.

He had completed all his education and training, but died less than a month before he would have gotten his paramedic license.

It was important for the judge to know that Alden was more than a paramedic or EMT, Osuch said: "He was my friend." Together, they moved from their hometown of New Milford to Hartford to work for AMR.

Osuch said it fell to him to tell Alden's mother about the crash and her son's death.

Chris Chaplin, the local manager for AMR and Alden's boss, recalled in court the day of the crash, saying that AMR paramedics and EMTs were there quickly because the crash happened only about two blocks from their office.

The rescuers arrived to find that their friend and colleague had already died, Chaplin said. Although they were devastated, Alden's colleagues turned their attention to Torres and another man hurt in the crash. "They took care of Ms. Torres as they would have taken of anybody," Chaplin said.

"I hope that Ms. Torres and others will learn from this incident … that you can't [drink and] get behind the wheel," he said.

Prosecutor Donna Mambrino told the judge that Torres disregarded how drunk she was.

"There's just no excuse for this behavior," Mambrino said. "She knew perfectly well what she was doing that [day], and it ended in the death of a young man."

The driver of a third vehicle involved in the crash, Zeeshan Rashid, 34, of Newington, said in court that the injuries he suffered that day still plague him.

Torres' lawyer, William Gerace, said that she has worked hard her entire life to help others. He also said the injuries she suffered in the crash, including two broken legs, have left her disabled and living in a nursing home.

Joan Hurley, who was Torres' sixth-grade teacher, said that Torres sought her out after the crash. "I knew she'd been in mental and emotional agony to know she caused this," Hurley said. She described Torres as a kind and caring person.

When it was Torres' turn to spoke, she expressed deep regret for what happened and said she would readily switch places with Alden.

"I know I am responsible for your sorrow," she told his family. "I am filled with remorse and shame."

Alexander said that during her 15 years as a judge, she has handled many cases of drunken-driving deaths and is frustrated that the toll has not waned, despite the prison sentences handed out.

And although she said that the sentence she imposed on Torres in no way compensates for Alden's death or his family's pain, she expressed hope that it would serve as a deterrent.

She then sentenced Torres to 12 years in prison, suspended after she serves four years, and three years of probation. While on probation, Alexander ordered Torres not to drive, to undergo alcohol and mental health treatment and to perform 100 hours of community service each year.

©2015 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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