NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — The driver charged with hitting and killing musician and former Guilford, Vt. resident Charlie Braun last year as he rode his bike near Northampton High School will serve probation, perform 200 hours of community service and lose her right to drive for 15 years after she pleaded guilty Wednesday to motor vehicle homicide.
Haley Kelly-Sherette, 24, of Williamsburg, accepted a plea deal during an afternoon hearing in Northampton District Court. Additional civil charges of failing to stop for a stop sign and use of an electronic device while driving were dismissed as a condition of the deal.
Judge Jennifer Tyne sentenced Kelly-Sherette to one year in jail, which will be suspended as she serves three years of probation. Failure to abide by the conditions of probation, prosecutors said, would result in jail time.
According to a statement from prosecutors in the wake of the Oct. 6 crash, Kelly-Sherette “was driving south on Woodlawn (Avenue) when she engaged in a 53-second Facetime conversation with a friend” on her cellphone and was further distracted by her young child in the back seat.
Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Andrew Covington said in court Wednesday that Kelly-Sherette was driving her 2018 Hyundai Elantra in clear, sunny weather when she ran the stop sign at Woodlawn and Elm. She acknowledged in an interview with investigators that she glanced at her phone at that exact moment, Covington said.
The crash knocked Braun, 69, into the road, where the car ran over him. Kelly-Sherette stopped and called 911. Braun, a celebrated guitarist and music teacher who lived in Guilford for more than 25 years, was pronounced dead half an hour later at Cooley Dickinson Hospital and his cause of death was determined to be multiple blunt force injuries, Covington said.
A Northampton High School security camera captured the 4:13 p.m. crash on video.
Covington said that Kelly-Sherette consented to an immediate search of her phone and a roadside alcohol breath test, which registered a reading of .028, well below the legal limit for driving while intoxicated. He said there was “no evidence” of impairment and described Kelly-Sherette as “cooperative with investigators” ever since the crash.
She has no prior criminal record and only one verbal warning for speeding.
But, Covington said, the presence of empty Fireball whiskey bottles in the car initiated an investigation by the state Department of Children and Families. Kelly-Sherette is now in a substance abuse treatment program recommended by DCF and must remain free of drugs, alcohol and non-prescription marijuana during her probation. She also must submit to random screenings.
“This agreement is acceptable to all parties,” Covington told the court, adding that there is a special condition insisted upon by Braun’s family. Even though her jail sentence is suspended, Kelly-Sherette will be required to “visit” the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, he said.
She must also undergo therapy, take a safe driving course and complete a parenting class, Covington said.
Defense attorney John Drake said Kelly-Sherette took full responsibility for the crash from the beginning and, one day, would like to speak with the family as an attempt at restorative justice, if they agree.
Drake said Kelly-Sherette was working as a certified nursing assistant at the time of the crash and her employer suspended her as a result. Since she was not fired, she does not qualify for unemployment and has received no income for more than eight months.
On Friday, she will graduate from Greenfield Community College’s practical nursing program, but she will not be able to get a nursing license until one year after her probation ends in 2025.
Braun’s daughters, Cedar Onchi and Jemma Siperstein, gave emotional victim impact statements before Tyne approved the plea deal. As they spoke, Tyne could be seen wiping away tears with a tissue.
“My dad was one of my best friends,” Onchi said. “He was always there to listen and to give advice. He loved his family and friends unconditionally.”
She said that Braun, who lived in Northampton for more than a decade, loved to bake and travel to new places. Not only will Braun miss a lifetime of family milestones like graduations and weddings, she said, but she will miss even the mundane moments of day-to-day life with her dad.
“I can’t let anger be my fuel,” she said, pledging not to raise her daughter in fear of tragedy. Quoting the sole bumper sticker on Braun’s vehicle, she added, “The real revolution will be love.”
Siperstein reflected on the many times her father came to her house early in the morning to watch her daughter while she “worked 12-hour shifts at the hospital,” and the times when he brought her miso soup in her college dorm room.
Like Onchi, she mourned the loss of her father’s powerful hugs.
“I had an amazing dad and I am so grateful for that,” Siperstein said. “I still can’t really believe that he’s gone. … I would give absolutely anything to be able to hug him again.”
Tyne said the court received 18 victim impact statements in writing and she was pleased that Kelly-Sherette said she read all of them. Drake, the defense attorney, said Kelly-Sherette has also seen “medical records and hospital pictures.”
“It’s terrifying how a life so full can be ended so quickly with such carelessness,” Tyne said. “The impact of Charlie Braun’s death will reverberate through the lives of everyone who loved him, forever.”
Legislation known as “Charlie’s Law,” proposed by state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, would ban drivers from recording or broadcasting video behind the wheel in Massachusetts. The bill was sent to the Joint Committee on Transportation for review.
Brian Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.