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A tearful Michael J. McHenry was ordered Monday to spend the next 3 1/2 to seven years in prison, the maximum allowable sentence on his plea in the drunken-driving crash on the Kensington Expressway entrance ramp that killed his girlfriend six months ago.

"Isn't it tragic that you didn't get that feeling earlier?" Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico asked McHenry, 43, as he sentenced him on his fourth alcohol-related driving conviction since 1989. "How many times do you need before you get the message?"

McHenry pleaded guilty Feb. 1 to vehicular manslaughter and felony drunken-driving charges for the death of Heather Fowler, 31, during a noontime crash Oct. 27.

Sharon Burkel, the victim's mother, cried as she asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence for causing the death of her only child and leaving her two young grandchildren motherless.

Attorney Michael J. Rooth told the judge his client has had a severe drug and alcohol problem, largely untreated, for the past two decades.

McHenry cried as he told the judge he deeply regrets what happened because "I never meant to cause harm to Heather."

The crash occurred on the Scajaquada Expressway at the curve entering the Kensington Expressway. McHenry, who had just had drinks with Fowler at a Hertel Avenue bar, was driving with a restricted license because of a 1998 DWI conviction in Monroe County.

Prosecutors Mario Alberto Giacobbe and J. Patrick Lennon said McHenry was driving a van owned by a company that had fired him after an earlier incident with Fowler in a company vehicle.

A day before the fatal crash, Kenmore police had charged McHenry with reckless driving for nearly injuring three people while barely missing another vehicle on Hoover Avenue in the village, prosecutors said.

McHenry's lengthy criminal history includes three Rochester and Oneida County drunken-driving convictions, according to court records.


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