Christopher Barton loved his family, he loved to fish and he loved his Harley.
He also was a careful person, his wife, Christine, told an Erie County Court judge on Thursday. She was speaking on behalf of her husband before sentencing of the woman who killed him on a Town of Hamburg highway last October.
“One of the decisions he made was not to ride (his motorcycle) at night, because he didn’t want to be on the road with all the drunks,” Christine Barton said before turning to the defendant, Jennifer Sage, and adding, “It’s really ironic Chris was killed by someone like you.”
Sage, 36, who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in January, received a sentence of four to 12 years in state prison. She admitted that she drove into Barton’s motorcycle on Oct. 10 while he was sitting behind another vehicle at a red light on Route 5 at Amsdell Road. Tests later revealed Sage had a blood-alcohol content of 0.26, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08, at the time of the crash.
This was her third drunken driving arrest in three years – and, Barton’s family hopes, her last.
Barton, 47, had stayed true to his cautious policy that day. He wasn’t riding at night. He was killed at 1:15 on a bright autumn afternoon.
His sister, Kelly Barton, also spoke in court and remarked how unbelievable it all was.
“It was a beautiful October morning, with sunshine and clear blue skies,” she said. She was doing things outside, too, before she got the call that her younger brother had been in a serious accident, and that he would not be coming home to his wife and sons, who were only 9 and 11 years old.
“It angers me to find that this was her third offense – the third time of actually getting caught,” Kelly Barton said.
Christine Barton said her children still wonder why Sage was allowed to drive, and she condemned her for her selfish behavior.
“You are 36 years old, educated, a paralegal and you knew exactly what you were doing,” Mrs. Barton said. “Your tears are not for Chris or our family, but for yourself.”
And, no matter how harsh the sentence would be, she said to Sage, “You will get a third chance, and Chris will not get a second chance. I will still be a widow and our boys will still not have a father.”
Sage, who also had family supporting her in court, clearly was shaken by the Barton family’s words but went forward with her own statement before hearing her sentence.
She described the “grief, despair, hopelessness and confusion” that have overtaken her since the crash. Her said her grief is compounded by her sympathy for the family’s loss. In 2012, Sage found her own father’s body after he committed suicide in her apartment and, according to her attorney, Frank LoTempio, it sent her into a tailspin.
“Knowing my actions have caused your family the same agony of loss is more than I can bear,” she said.
Sage also admitted she is an alcoholic who has failed repeatedly in her efforts at sobriety.
“My worst nightmare has become my reality,” the Hamburg woman said. “I have hit the lowest bottom imaginable.”
It remains unknown where or why Sage was drinking so much so early on a Saturday.
She told Judge Thomas P. Franczyk that she made a habit of taking cabs when she went out because of her drinking.
“I honest to God don’t know what happened that day,” she said.
“I suggest you got intoxicated and lost your judgment,” Franczyk said bluntly.
“I consider these cases the worst form of theft,” the judge said. “You robbed this family of their loved one, and nobody gets over that. An innocent person was killed and now his family is here to try to pick up the pieces.”
In addition to pronouncing an indeterminate sentence of four to 12 years in prison, Franczyk said that Sage’s driver’s license would be revoked and that he hoped she would never be allowed to drive again.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher M. McCarthy prosecuted the case, but on Thursday he chose to let Barton’s family do most of the speaking.