WOBURN (CBS) — Victims of last year’s fatal crash into Newton’s Sweet Tomatoes restaurant spoke on the stand about their ordeal Wednesday, as the driver accused in the crash considers a guilty plea.
Bradford Casler drove through an intersection and into the restaurant on March 1, 2016.
He’s charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide and one count of operating a motor vehicle to endanger.
Eleanor Miele, 57, and Gregory Morin, 32, were killed in the crash, and several others were injured.
The case has not yet gone to trial. Instead, the judge said he wanted to hear victim impact statements Wednesday and medical testimony next week in anticipation of a guilty plea from Casler.
Those statements and that testimony will be followed by a sentencing recommendation later in September. At that point, Casler may change his plea to guilty depending on what sentence the judge recommends.
However, the judge explained, the case would go to trial if Casler decided against a plea deal.
Casler, who has Multiple Sclerosis, was present in court Wednesday using a walker. In upcoming medical testimony, he is expected to maintain that medical issues contributed to the fatal crash.
Prosecutors said his MS did not play a factor in the crash–but claim speed did.
The judge said that medical testimony will be strictly limited to what is relevant to sentencing.
The first victim to give a statement was Gabriela Moreira, an employee who was working in the pizza restaurant when Casler’s SUV came crashing through its front window.
Through tears, Moreira spoke of the pain she still feels due to fractures to her leg, arm, jaw, and nose she suffered in the crash. She said she is afraid to go out because of the scars on her arms and legs, and because of difficulty walking–and said her insurance doesn’t cover her medical bills.
“I never imagined an accident like that would happen to me,” she said. “Eighteen months later and I still can’t stand in front of the pizzeria.”
Next, Erika Morin, Gregory Morin’s widow, recounted waiting for her husband to come home that night–and walking down to the scene of the crash to find him, then seeing the car sitting inside the restaurant.
“In the simplest of terms, joy has been taken from our lives,” she said. “The weight of such grief is not something you can understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself.”
Morin said the couple’s daughter was only 15 months old when she lost her father, and has already lived more of her life without him than with him.
“Greg lost 50-some years of his life, and the chance to watch his daughter grow up,” she said. “And my daughter lost a lifetime with her da-da.”
She said she didn’t believe Casler’s health should play a factor in the case–because, she said, it didn’t keep him from getting in his car that day.
Eleanor Miele’s older brother, Thomas Desmond, spoke next.
He told the court he believed his sister’s death was “preventable and avoidable,” and said she was taken “by the carelessness of a driver.”
He said Miele was on the way to to church that night to make baskets for needy children.
Miele’s sister Mary spoke for Miele’s husband, who was too upset to take the stand.
She described her sister’s charitable nature, and said she was helping an elderly woman shortly before the crash.
Then, Rabbi Robert Miller spoke on behalf of the defense, telling the court he’s known Casler for over 40 years.
“I can’t believe Brad would ever intentionally injure another human being,” he said.
He said Casler came to speak to him after the crash, and expressed his grief.
“He said, ‘You know, Rabbi, I wish it was I who died, instead of those two innocent people,'” Rabbi Miller said.
He said Casler’s father had MS, and remarked upon the way Casler cared for him as a teenager.
Candace Bleiler, who said she’s known Casler for 20 years, described him as a “kind and caring man.”
“He’s a very sad man and he’s devastated,” she said. “He’s going to suffer the rest of his life because of what he’s done.”
Casler cried as the final person called by the defense, his long-time friend Stephen Gordon, described how Casler cared for his father, who had MS.
Gordon said he’s known Casler for about 50 years, since they moved to the same neighborhood as children.
“Brad doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” Gordon said. “He’s a kind person.”
Gordon said the crash “destroyed him.”
“Not a day goes by when he doesn’t cry,” he said. “He’s having an incredibly difficult time.”
The restaurant had extensive damage and was boarded up for months after.
Last summer, safety bollards were installed in front of the shop.
Sweet Tomatoes reopened last month, 18 months after the tragic crash.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports