A Kenmore man was sentenced Wednesday to one to three years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed his friend last summer. Robert Mooney, 21, of Delaware Road, was driving back from the beach when his Jeep swerved off the road.
Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case sentenced Mooney in a courtroom filled with about 50 relatives and friends of both Mooney and the victim, Joseph F. Cavalleri, 20, of the Town of Tonawanda.
Mooney previously pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, admitting that he was driving more than 80 miles an hour on June 21 in the Village of Farnham. His blood-alcohol content was 0.14 percent, well above the legal threshold.
Cavalleri was ejected from the Jeep after it flipped over several times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mooney had faced a maximum prison sentence of two and one-third to seven years.
The judge said he read all of the letters he received from friends and family of both Cavalleri and Mooney.
“By all accounts, Joey Cavalleri was a special person, son, father, relative and friend to many,” Case said, noting many of the letter writers described him as their best friend.
He called the case “a tragedy compounded by a death caused by the victim’s best friend.”
He said he knows Mooney is devastated and depressed and unable to forgive himself for making a “horrible decision to drink and drive home that day.”
“There is no sentence that can make everybody happy,” he said.
He said he had a very difficult time determining an appropriate sentence, adding that he tried to imagine what the victim would think was appropriate.
“I know that both families are devastated,” he said as his voice broke with emotion before sentencing. “I hope that both can heal.”
The judge said he took into account Mooney’s remorse, guilty plea and lack of a previous criminal record.
“But I can’t ignore the tragic result of his decision – the death of a very special person,” he said.
The judge imposed the one-to-three-year prison term on the vehicular manslaughter conviction and a six-month jail term on the misdemeanor DWI, with the sentences to run concurrently.
Assistant District Attorney Robin J. Deubler asked the judge to sentence Mooney to state prison.
Mooney made several bad choices, she said. He drank wine at home and drove to a liquor store to buy tequila to drink on the beach south of Buffalo with Cavalleri. He also drove home, a distance of 37 miles, even though he was drunk, she said.
He was driving 83 mph on Route 5 in Farnham when he came up too fast behind another vehicle, jerked the steering wheel to avoid a collision and swerved off the road, sending the Jeep tumbling end over end, she said.
“I have a hole in my heart that can never be filled because Joey is gone,” Marni Cavalleri, the victim’s mother, told the judge.
She said she can’t leave her home without her daughter because “she is afraid I won’t come home again like her brother.”
She said Mooney did not apologize to her family, despite emails she sent him seeking one.
“This stupid, careless ride has changed the lives of so many,” said Jesse Buchet, the mother of the victim’s 2-year-old daughter, Aria, in a statement read aloud at sentencing by her aunt. “Today I hope he gets the justice he deserves.”
Sunil Bakshi, Mooney’s attorney, said his client takes responsibility.
“If he could trade places with Joey, he would in a heartbeat,” he told the judge.
He said Mooney has visited the victim’s grave and has been undergoing treatment for depression.
He said the two men had been best friends since they were 7 years old.
Mooney pleaded guilty to the highest charges in the indictment to save the family from the ordeal of a trial, Bakshi said.
Mooney said he cannot imagine the pain he has caused the Cavalleri family. He apologized for what he did and said he was prepared to accept punishment.