DUDLEY – A widow’s mercy and compassion were conveyed to a judge Thursday in a recommendation to drop a motor vehicle homicide charge against the driver whose car fatally hit her husband.
William C. Krukowski, 68, was fatally struck by a car as he checked his mailbox at 210 Southbridge Road, Charlton, on Nov. 25, 2016.
Driver Sharon M. Sharon M. Ricci, 62, of 24 Roger St., Apt. 1, Southbridge, was charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving, negligent driving and a marked lanes violation. After her arraignment in May in Dudley District Court, she was released on personal recognizance.
Mr. Krukowski’s widow, Margaret Krukowski, insisted to the Worcester district attorney’s office that Mrs. Ricci’s being charged with motor vehicle homicide and serving a long prison sentence and facing a 15-year loss of her driver’s license were not “appropriate options,” according to Assistant District Attorney Michael J. Luzzo.
“She told me that all it would do was burden Ms. Ricci’s loved ones. The mercy and compassion in Margaret’s statements and desires will forever stick with me,” Mr. Luzzo said. “It also appears to me that William had the same kind heart that Margaret has. I asked Margaret what William would have wanted for an outcome, and she said that ‘he would not want anything bad to happen to her.’ ”
Attorney Gregory Casale, representing Ms. Ricci, told Judge Robert G. Harbour that his client and the prosecutor’s office had reached a plea agreement.
The charge of motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving was dropped, and Ms. Ricci was found guilty of negligent driving. She was sentenced to 3 years’ supervised probation and immediate two-year loss of her driver’s license.
In addition, Ms. Ricci must complete 100 hours of community service and complete a full-day “Brains at Risk” program and an eight-hour National Highway Safety course through the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The charge of marked lanes violation was filed with a responsible finding.
Reading from an impact statement from the victim’s wife, who was in the courtroom, Mr. Luzzo described Mr. Krukowski as a devoted husband and life partner of 46 years, a father of two sons and a daughter, a brother and a proud grandfather.
Personal tragedy is nothing new for the Krukowski family, Mr. Luzzo explained.
On March 10, 1996, the Krukowskis’ 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer M. Krukowski, was killed in a head-on collision on Route 20 in Charlton.
“As a father, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that the family had to endure,” Mr. Luzzo said.
On July 29, 1997, Charles S. Newsome, 43, of Crockett, Texas, was found not guilty of motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving in the 1996 fatal crash. His lawyer said his client’s epilepsy caused him to swerve over the Route 20 center line and collide with the car in which Jennifer Krukowski was a passenger.
After their daughter’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Krukowski formed JENS-Citizens for Safer Highways, a citizens’ advocacy group, in 1996.
JENS, which stands for Just End Needless Suffering, was instrumental in the 1998 passage of the JENS bill, which helped bring about funding for a $19 million reconstruction of Route 20 in Charlton. Safety improvements in the project included wider lanes, concrete dividers separating eastbound and westbound traffic, breakdown areas and safer curves on a 3.65-mile stretch of the road.
Jennifer’s death spurred her parents to lobby for the reconstruction of the dangerous road so no other family would have to endure a similar tragedy, Mr. Luzzo said. “Their persistence and dedication to their daughter made this a successful endeavor and they were able to save countless future lives.”
Mr. Luzzo also spoke how 20 years later Mrs. Krukowski found herself in a similar position, coping with the loss of her husband in a traffic death.
A preliminary assessment of the November 2016 crash by Charlton police indicated Mrs. Ricci was driving south on Southbridge Road (Route 169) in a 2014 Chevy Equinox when the vehicle went into the breakdown lane on the right side of the road, hitting Mr. Krukowski as he got his mail. Mrs. Ricci’s SUV crashed into a guardrail.
Mrs. Ricci told investigating Officer Richard M. McGrath that she couldn’t believe she hit someone and hoped the victim was going to be all right. Mrs. Ricci was “visibly shaken” and “emotionally upset” but did not show any signs of impairment or intoxication, according to the officer’s report.
A witness to the crash told Officer McGrath that she saw Mrs. Ricci’s vehicle hit Mr. Krukowski, throwing him about 100 feet onto his side lawn, before it hit the guardrail. The witness also said she did not see any other vehicles, debris or animals that would have been a factor in the accident, according to the report.
Mr. Krukowski was taken by ambulance to Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, where he was later pronounced dead.
A state police accident reconstruction team ruled out mechanical failure, weather, speed and medical issues as possible factors in the crash. Ms. Ricci never applied the brakes in the crash, Mr. Luzzo said.
Mr. Luzzo said the crash occurred the day after Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ricci had just finished working numerous hours on “Black Friday.” However, he didn’t say whether fatigue was a cause or a factor in the crash.
Trooper Richard Wolanski Jr., an accident reconstruction specialist, determined Ms. Ricci was driving in a manner that she was unable to control the vehicle, causing it to leave the roadway, Officer McGrath stated in his report.
“Most people in Margaret’s situation would find themselves wanting revenge, losing faith or worse. Not Margaret,” Mr. Luzzo said. “I am in amazement at her strength, her capacity for mercy, and ability to hold her family together.”
While no one took responsibility for the tragedy involving the Krukowskis’ daughter, Ms. Ricci cooperated with investigators and demonstrated willingness to take responsibility for her actions, Mr. Luzzo said.
“Ms. Ricci taking responsibility will not bring Margaret’s husband back,” Mr. Luzzo said. “However, this gesture of admitting responsibility is welcomed and may give Margaret some small sense of peace. Margaret knows that Ms. Ricci must be hurting as well. Margaret knows that Ms. Ricci did not set out to hurt anyone that fateful morning. Hopefully, today will begin the long process of healing and moving forward with their lives.”