BOSTON (CBS) — Brad Casler, who killed two people when his car crashed through the Newton Sweet Tomatoes pizza shop, was sentenced to four years to serve in the Middlesex House of Corrections Tuesday.
On Oct. 29, a jury found Casler guilty of two motor vehicle homicide charges and one charge of operating to endanger. The 57-year-old had faced up to seven years in prison.
“The evidence in this trial shows that it was not the legal responsibility of his doctor to tell the defendant not to drive. Rather, it was the legal responsibility and duty of Mr. Casler to operate a motor vehicle safely. Additionally, Mr. Casler’s negligent operation of his vehicle was not attributable simply to his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. What was important is that as a driver, Mr. Casler was responsible to consider the particularized circumstances of his physical condition and his knowledge of his impairments and the risk of his impairments when driving a car on March 1, 2016,” said Judge Merita Hopkins.
Prosecutors asked for two and a half years on each of the two motor vehicle homicide counts. The defense had asked for six months of house arrest with GPS monitoring to allow him to continue treatment and 200 hours of community service with multiple sclerosis patients and make efforts to change the multiple sclerosis driving standards in Massachusetts.
Immediately following the sentencing, Casler’s defense attorney requested Casler stay out of jail during the appeal process. That request was rejected.
Casler’s defense had blamed Casler’s multiple sclerosis for the March 1, 2016 crash and said he should not be held criminally responsible. The crash killed 32-year-old Gregory Morin and 57-year-old Eleanor Miele. Seven others were injured.
Multiple people came forward to give victim impact statements before the judge sentenced Casler.
Morin’s wife Erika was first. “It remains impossible to adequately describe Greg and to explain how difficult the past two years and eight months have been. There’s not a single aspect of my life that has not been affected,” she said. The couple’s daughter was 15 months old at the time.
“She will tell you that she is sad sometimes because she misses him but that he is always in our hearts. The grief is internalized in her in ways that I don’t even realize sometimes. She used to say she wanted to be a baby again and at some points, she followed up with a very quiet ‘because that would mean I would get to see da-da again.’ She has also said for some time she wants to be an astronaut but only recently did she add that’s because she wants to visit her da-da in the stars,” said Morin.
Morin said she has struggled with health problems since Greg’s death, relationships with family and friends became strained, and that she left work for a year.
“I do not believe that Mr. Casler was thinking about others that day or any other day when he chose to drive knowing his condition. I believe that a negative outcome was inevitable and unfortunately for Greg, for Eleanor, and for the other injured parties, it was so much more tragic than it might have been…We have sat in this courtroom for two and a half years watching as Mr. Casler’s attorney delayed at every opportunity. I have showed up on days that Mr. Casler himself did not show up,” she continued.
“Mr. Casler may express remorse now that he has been sentenced but up to this point, he has largely expressed remorse [related to] only how the event has impacted his life,” Morin said. She concluded with “there should always be consequences for our actions.”
Miele’s brother, Thomas Desmond also spoke. “I recall the horror of the midnight phone call from my brother Joseph telling me that he had terrible news. In that moment, I thought it was our mother and I blurted it out. He responded no, it’s Eleanor. And I was stunned. She lived in Watertown, why was she at a West Newton restaurant? I later learned that she had stopped there for dinner en route to a charitable event at her parish church,” he said. “Even on that last night of her life, we were told that she assisted an elderly woman who was having trouble entering the restaurant. That small act of kindness exemplifies our sister.”
Desmond said his family is torn by grief and anger.
“Her absence over the past couple of years has had a major impact on all of us, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Again, how can you put into words the pain, the sadness, the grief that Eleanor’s absence has brought? You can’t.”
He also noted “Mr. Casler spoke repeatedly at wanting to spare the families any additional trauma or grief” but turned down a plea deal that would have prevented a trial.
Sweet Tomatoes employee Gabriela Moreira was seriously injured in the crash. She has undergone seven surgeries with more to come. “I was afraid that everything was going to explode since the car was right in front of me against the oven. The memory is still very fresh and extremely vivid in my mind,” she recalled.
Moreira said used to love traveling, working, and meeting up with friends. She no longer feels safe and has become anxious and depressed since the crash.
She spent 45 days in the hospital and her husband slept there each night.
“I recently lost my father and I couldn’t say my last goodbyes to him. And if it was not enough suffering already, I could not afford to bring them [from Brazil] over here or even go there because of the financial difficulties I am going through.”
Moreira said Casler never apologized to her or any of the other victims and their families.
In Casler’s defense, two friends, his brother and his son spoke. Casler then took the stand himself.
“I’ve wanted to speak over the last couple years, two and a half plus. But I’ve not really had the ability to do that. I know that my attorneys have spoken on my behalf. I’ve had a hard time making public appearances and that, so thank you very much. My remorse and sorrow for the families that have been impacted by this, I live with it every second of every day,” Casler said.
“I was never told not to drive,” he said, mentioning that eight states have laws regarding driving with multiple sclerosis but Massachusetts is not one of them. Casler mentioned he would like to “make a difference” with the rest of his time and change the laws in this state.
Casler said since he has been in jail he has lost seven to nine pounds.
“My condolences once again to the families that were hurt. The deceased families as well. I think about this every second I am breathing.”
Casler was emotional as his friend told the judge about what a good father Casler is and how he began to struggle with multiple sclerosis. “To put Brad in prison for an extended period of time is a waste of a truly good person. He is sweet, well-meaning and has always put other people before himself,” Casler’s friend said.
Another friend told the judge that she met Casler after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years ago. She witnessed Casler approach others with the disease and offer his assistance without even knowing them.
“One of the things that I’ve heard about Brad throughout all the court proceedings is that he’s showing very little emotion. That is very much Brad’s way of being, he thinks it’s very important to not show emotion,” she said.
Then she added, “I know that he will not have another happy moment the rest of his life. He doesn’t want to. The guilt and remorse that he feels will be with him every second of every day for the rest of his life. And I am very afraid that both the emotional impact of the accident and the stresses of any long sentence in prison, I’m afraid that it will catastrophic impact on his M.S.”
Jeffrey Casler, Brad’s brother, also suffers from multiple sclerosis. He described Brad as selfless and said Brad was a huge part in the 24-hour care that allowed their mother to live out her life at home.
He told the judge Brad began serving his sentence the day of the crash and is a shell of who he used to be. “By incarcerating Brad, it all but ensures accelerated disease prevention, which ultimately will lead to an early death…I wish incarceration could bring the deceased back and help cure the people that were injured but it won’t. Incarceration will only further the speed of Brad’s progression…In my opinion, in essence, by incarcerating him is signing his death certificate.”
Zachary Casler is Brad Casler’s oldest son. He expressed his condolences at length: “Our sincerest sorrows to those that suffered injuries, both physical and psychological. And our deepest sympathies for the families of Greg Morin and Eleanor Miele, our grief for the deceased themselves. It pains me and my brothers and everyone to live in a world where such gut-wrenching accidents occur and the pain is infinitely amplified by the involvement of our family in this tragedy. We regret that the trial itself required the victims and the families to relive their traumas and we sincerely hope that those who were injured and the families of the deceased can one day find a sense of peace.”
He also said, “His [father’s] guilt and his feelings of it over his involvement in the accident run so deep that it shattered most of his basic identity. And it really saddens me as his son to think that he feels so out of place in his own home and it’s nothing that you would wish upon anyone and it’s really, really tough to see him go through it.”