Driver in fatal Swanzey, N.H., crash denied early release
KEENE, N.H. >> A man convicted of shooting up three bags of heroin before plowing his truck into a car and killing the young couple inside has been denied his request for an early release from prison.
"Fourteen years is nothing compared to living with the loss of your children," Kim Clark, whose son died in the crash, told a judge of Joseph M. Bailey's minimum sentence.
"Please, please, don't let him out before his sentence is up. Please make him serve the sentence he agreed to. Please honor the memory of our children."
At a hearing Monday in Cheshire County Superior Court, Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. denied a motion by Bailey, 34, who asked to be released from prison four years sooner than the minimum sentence handed down on two negligent homicide convictions in 2007.
On Sept. 16, 2006, Kevin M. Squires, 21, of Guilford, Vt., and Kelsey E. Wells, 18, of Brattleboro were driving home from car shopping on Route 12 in Swanzey when their Subaru was hit head-on by Bailey. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of seven to 14 years. He was also charged with one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a minor; his nearly 2-year-old son was in his truck at the time of the crash.
The case sparked community-wide outrage at Bailey and grief for the young couple, who were so widely respected and popular that their wake had to be held at Brattleboro Union High School to accommodate all the mourners. Bailey initially denied he'd been doing drugs, but ultimately admitted to the crimes and accepted a plea bargain in lieu of going to trial.
"This puts us in the position of having to defend our kids," Tina Squires, Kevin Squires' stepmother, told The Sentinel shortly before Monday's hearing. "To prove that their lives meant something. They were extraordinary kids. They didn't do anything wrong. They were just driving down the road."
During Monday's hearing, Bailey's public defender, Alexander Parsons, explained to Kissinger that Bailey's mother was 14 when she got pregnant with him and his birth father abandoned them. At the age of 12, his father, who'd been incarcerated in California, came back into the picture for a month. In that time, he introduced his son to alcohol and marijuana and then promptly exited his life, back to prison, according to Parsons.
From there, Parsons explained, things only got worse. Bailey dropped out of school in ninth grade and left home at 15. Still, Parsons said, Bailey was a hard worker, and by the age of 16 started doing roofing, welding and construction work; by 18 he had his welding certificate.
At age 20, Bailey and his girlfriend had a son. Parsons told the judge Bailey was remarkably dedicated to the little boy, despite the eventual breakup with his child's mother. He worked long hours to keep money coming in and even when he'd lose his job, he was so good he'd quickly find another one.
In 2005, he broke his leg and was prescribed narcotics. What happened next has become an all-too-familiar story these days, Parsons said; he became addicted to the narcotics and moved on to heroin.
A year later, he took the lives of Kevin and Kelsey.
Once in prison, Parsons said, Bailey completed his GED, finished a portion of his bachelor's, took anger management classes, completed a parenting program, volunteered at the prison — even becoming a coordinator of other volunteers — and regularly visited with his son.
Bailey's half-brother, Matthew Pelkey, spoke to that in court Monday. He talked about how much Bailey loves his son, often helping him with his homework and teaching him to draw during visits, and giving him advice about how to deal with bullies during video chats. Pelkey said the love is mutual; Bailey's son is always telling Pelkey he can't wait until his dad gets out so that they can go fishing and hang out together, he said.
"When he hugs him during visits," Pelkey said, "you can just see it in his face. It's like he doesn't want to let him go."
Kevin's and Kelsey's families were also allowed to speak. Kim Clark, Kevin's mother, told the judge that her son had attended college and was working as a mason. Kelsey was going to be an EMT. Both were athletes and highly regarded in the community.
"They were two vibrant young adults who had their whole lives ahead of them," she said. "He took our babies. And we have been given a life sentence without them because of his inexcusable actions. ... They say that time heals, when in reality, it doesn't. You just learn how to cope with it."
Steve Squires, Kevin's dad, said there isn't a day that goes by when he doesn't miss his kind, hardworking, loving son, or relive the crash that took Kevin from him. He told the judge about Kevin's dreams.
Ron Wells, Kelsey's dad, told Kissinger that his wife wakes up every day, goes to the photo she has of Kelsey and Kevin, wishes them a good morning, tells them she loves them, kisses the picture and starts her day. He said he often looks at the picture he has of them in his truck and wonders what they would be doing now.
"Then, throughout the day, you see something, you hear something that reminds you of them — your throat tightens up, your eyes glaze over, and a tear rolls down your face," he said. "You then take a deep breath and try to keep moving forward. If you measured the pain from 1 to 10, it's an 11."
Now they attend Kelsey's friends' graduation parties, baby showers and weddings, all the while knowing they'll never get to do any of that with their daughter. He'll never get to have a last father-daughter dance with Kelsey, he said.
"Life is not how I pictured it," he said. "It is so hard living with a broken heart."
Sue Wells, Kelsey's mother, told the judge she lost her best friend in that crash. She'll never again get to hear Kelsey's voice or see Kelsey's smile. The conversations they have now are all one-sided.
Sue Wells told the judge she's a firm believer in second chances, but that when Bailey chose to do heroin before getting in the car and "killing our babies," he was already on probation.
"Probation was his second chance," she said. "And now Mr. Bailey has the nerve to ask for a third chance?"
When it was his turn to speak to the judge, Bailey first turned toward the Squires and Wells families to apologize. He said everyone's talking about his plans for the future, but all he can think about is how their kids will never get to make plans like that.
"I'm responsible for that. I'm responsible. I can't give you them back," he said, choking back tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take them. I never meant to hurt anyone. I just wish there was something I could do; I wish there was something I could give you; I wish there was some way I could help. ... I'll always carry it with me. I always have. I always will.
"And that's right. It's my burden. I deserve to bear it," he said. "I can't do anything to change what has happened, but I can do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again."
He told them he's tried to learn along the way and that his goal is to help people so that no one else, "has to suffer what you've had to suffer. What they suffered."
He then turned to the judge and explained that he, like anyone else who's an addict, never started out wanting to be one. He said since he's been in prison, he started taking college classes (although the prison then stopped offering them and he had to stop). He was working with the Smart Recovery Program and training to be a peer counselor. (The prison stopped offering that program too.) It's hard to stay sober in prison, he said in court, but that he does what he can and has helped other inmates and even some Facebook pen pals to get their lives in order and stop using.
Bailey presented the judge with a step-by-step plan of what he would do to set up supports he'd need to stay sober, to start studying to be a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, to start work as a tattoo artist, and reconnect with his son. He told Kissinger he believes his story would help other addicts to get clean — he just needed a chance.
Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O'Reilly reminded the judge that Bailey had been on probation for other crimes before the fatal accident, and while she said his work to better himself in prison was to be commended, he had disciplinary actions taken against him. O'Reilly did not list them and Parsons declined to comment.
While he was addressing the judge, Bailey said some of the infractions were for doing tattoos for inmates. He said he did that to make money to send to his son for school clothes, and to help out family and friends.
Jeffrey Lyons, spokesman for the N.H. Department of Corrections, said he didn't have details of the infractions but provided a list of the prison codes of which Bailey was found to be in violation. They include, among other things, refusing to give a urine/breath sample upon demand and having an illicit substance in the blood, breath or urine.
O'Reilly recommended that Bailey be forced to serve at least his minimum sentence, which would mean another four years.
Kissinger ultimately commended Bailey on his work in prison, his help with others, being a father to his son and trying to make amends. He also said that he took into account what Bailey experienced as a child and that it likely played a large part in his addiction issues.
"I have compassion for people who have that struggle (with addiction)," he said. "When someone uses heroin and then drives, the very worst consequences become possible. And that is what happened when you chose to get behind the wheel after having used heroin."
He said he understood why the judge issued the sentence he did in 2007.
"I think given the actions, the consequence was absolutely the right one and for much the same reasons," he said. "I believe the sentence should remain as set. ... Though you have done many things to remedy the situation you've created, there's more work to do."
Melanie Plenda is a freelance writer from southern New Hampshire. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.