Abdikadir M. Jaffar, 32, who got drunk on New Year's Eve and drove his car into a group of pedestrians walking along Richmond Avenue, was sentenced Tuesday to up to 10 years in prison for the crash that sent shock waves through the community.
Four people were seriously injured, including a teenager who lost his left leg.
Erie County Court Judge Kenneth F. Case ordered that Jaffar serve an indeterminate sentence of 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison for the crime of aggravated vehicular assault. Before pronouncing the sentence, Case told Jaffar that, although no one lost their life that night, his victims "certainly lost the lives they had."
The judge added that, were it possible, he would consider a sentence of life without parole an appropriate punishment.
The crash was a terrible ending to a New Year's celebration for two high school students. Nathan Kahn and his friend Benjamin Weigel were walking home along Richmond Avenue after seeing the ball drop downtown and, as Nathan's father, Andrew Kahn, told the court, they were doing everything right: staying on the sidewalk, texting their parents of their whereabouts. Nathan was 10 houses from his destination, Kahn said, when he was hit.
Jaffar, who lived near Utica but was visiting family in Buffalo, was driving on Richmond Avenue with a blood alcohol level of 0.22 when he struck another car, veered into a utility pole and snapped it in two, then slammed into a group of pedestrians before hitting a parked car and finally coming to a stop. Passers-by surrounded Jaffar's vehicle and held him for police.
According to the students' parents, what happened next was captured on video, as people confronted Jaffar and told him he had just hit a group of people. He is seen in the video spreading his arms and saying, "I don't care. I don't care. I don't care."
Meanwhile, Nathan Kahn, a 15-year-old City Honors basketball player, was bleeding profusely from his severed leg. His friend Benjamin, 14, a Canisius High School student, suffered a concussion, a back injury and other injuries that would cause him to miss months of school. Another pedestrian, a 62-year-old man, was lying there with two broken legs, a fractured pelvis, injured shoulder and concussion, and a passenger in the first car Jaffar hit suffered a concussion.
"We have many adjectives for this man, this assailant, this drunk-driving terrorist," Kahn told the court, but he added the harshest criticism came from the refugee community in Buffalo.
Jaffar came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia, and refugees who knew the victims' families were dismayed that he "brought disgrace" to their community, they told one teen's parents.
Kahn mentioned that he is involved in several refugee organizations and that people were quick to offer condolences, prayers and apologies for what happened to his son.
"They said this man is not one of them. He's an outlier, a drug dealer, a disgrace to their community, a criminal and a fraud," Kahn said.
One Somali boy who reached out to him called Jaffar a "demon," Kahn added.
Kahn had high praise, however, for the people on the scene who helped save his son's life, and for the first responders, medical personnel and school and community members who treated his son and rallied for the family.
Mostly, he praised his son for his strength and resilience, calling him "an incredible human being who continues to do the right thing despite adversity."
"When my son woke up from the first of three major surgeries, the first thing he said – he grabbed my shirt and said, 'Dad, don't kill him, because then you'll be just like him,' " Kahn said.
Shereen Fox, Ben Weigel's mother, also shared her memories of that horrible night. First, though, she mentioned that, because she works as a mental health professional and has seen many people with substance abuse problems, she hoped that eventually Jaffar would return to his family and be well.
But that would not undo what he put her family through.
She recalled receiving a phone call from her son early on New Year's Day, as he told her, "Mom, Nate and I just got hit by a car. Nate doesn't have any legs."
She said her son wasn't able to be clear and they rushed to the scene, finding him sitting on the corner of Elmwood and Lexington drinking an iced coffee and bleeding. She rushed to him, saying urgently didn't he call and say they were hit by a car. Suddenly he came to a little, saying, "Oh my God, we were, we were. I'm so sorry, Mom."
They took him to the hospital, not knowing whether Nathan was even still alive, with Benjamin saying, "There was so much blood, Mom."
"He kept saying that," Fox said.
She added that he still has trouble with the memories of that night and she said he didn't want to come to court and see Jaffar again.
In the teens' absence, the judge praised them for their courage, grace and bravery, acknowledged Jaffar's words of remorse and pronounced the top sentence he committed to when he accepted Jaffar's guilty plea in September.