HONESDALE, Pa. (AP) — A suburban New York man who allowed his unlicensed 15-year-old daughter to drive an SUV that crashed in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, killing three of her friends, was sentenced Thursday to up to 16 years in prison by a judge who called his behavior “reckless, stupid and selfish.”
Michael Ware, 54, was given a lengthy sentence partly because he lied to investigators about giving his daughter the keys, allowing her to shoulder all the blame for the crash, said Wayne County President Judge Ray Hamill.
“What kind of father does this?” Hamill asked incredulously.
The crash on Aug. 30, 2014, killed Ryan Lesher, Shamus Digney and Cullen Keffer, all 15-year-old sophomores at Council Rock High School in suburban Philadelphia. Three others were hurt.
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Ware, who pleaded guilty last month to three counts each of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, apologized in a brief statement.
“I cannot begin to say how sorry I am,” Ware, of Scarsdale, told the judge. “Neither I nor my daughter meant any harm to anyone that day. May those boys rest in peace.”
His words rang hollow to the parents of the dead teens. They spoke in court of their pain and their anger toward Ware, who had allowed his daughter to drive on several occasions before the crash, including from New York to their vacation home in Pennsylvania.
“Your desire to be the cool dad devastated an entire community,” said Ryan’s mother, Lisa Lesher.
Hamill, his voice rising, repeatedly called Ware’s actions “preventable, irresponsible, reckless, stupid and selfish” and said he had failed as a father.
Ware’s lawyer, Robert Reno, had asked for a sentence of 12 to 23 months. Outside court, he called the sentence “ridiculous” and said there would be an appeal.
Prosecutors said Ware allowed his daughter to drive his Chevrolet Suburban from their Paupack Township home with one of her friends. She then picked up four boys and drove to a restaurant for breakfast. On the way back, she lost control of the SUV and flipped it.
“He basically gave his daughter a gun and put the bullets in it for her,” said Wilson Black, Shamus’ uncle.
Ware told authorities at the crash scene that his daughter took the vehicle without permission. The girl backed his story “so as not to get him in trouble,” according to court documents. It wasn’t until two months later that one of the passengers came forward and told police that Ware had given his daughter the keys.
Ware’s daughter acknowledged responsibility to vehicular homicide counts in juvenile court and was placed on indefinite probation. She also was ordered to perform 300 hours of community service, pay restitution and write a 2,000-word essay on the impact of her crime.
The victims’ parents said Ware not only was responsible for their sons’ deaths but also had wrecked his daughter’s life.
“You gave her too much independence too soon,” said Joe Keffer, Cullen’s father. “You failed to protect her.”