The judge called it a unique case among those he has seen in 20 years on the bench, as he prepared to sentence a young driver who took full responsibility for a deadly crash in August 2015 and who had pleaded guilty to the highest charge against him.
Before Jamar R. Sales was sentenced in State Supreme Court to six months in jail and five years of probation, he apologized several times to the family of Silvia de Rosas, 72.
De Rosas was driving with a grandson in her car Aug. 20, 2015, when Sales ran a red light and crashed into her vehicle at Masten Avenue and Northampton Street. De Rosas died a short time later at Buffalo General Medical Center.
Sales stayed at the scene and cooperated with police throughout the investigation, his attorney, Paul G. Dell, told the court. Tests showed he was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol; he was reckless.
“Too often, drivers ignore the rules of the road because they are in a hurry,” Dell told the court. He explained that Sales, then 19, was helping a cousin move that day, and he was speeding so they could get to a storage facility before it closed. When he got to the red light, he went through it.
Dell asked Justice Russell P. Buscaglia to look not only at the crash, but also at how his client behaved afterward.
“We have seen people – a doctor, a lawyer, a professional athlete – who selfishly and shamefully try to cover up their crimes,” Dell said, “and sometimes, selfishly and shamefully, they get away with it. “Here we have Jamar Sales, who grew up on the East Side and who stayed at the scene, cooperated with police and took responsibility for his actions. He did what we all like to think we would do.”
De Rosas’ children and other family members were in court to witness the sentencing.
“This is a truly remarkable family,” Buscaglia said. He mentioned that they had written that they would accept whatever sentence he deemed to be fair, a contrast to many other victims’ family who write demanding the harshest punishment possible, regardless of the circumstances.
The de Rosas family, he said, simply asked for justice and suggested that Sales also could be ordered to speak to groups about the dangers of reckless driving and the pain it can lead to. To facilitate that, Buscaglia also ordered Sales to perform 250 hours of community service.
That seemed an appropriate sentence in light of what de Rosas’ son George de Rosas said in his family’s statement to the court.
With love and clarity, he told how his parents met in their native Argentina and moved to Buffalo after they were married in 1969, so Juan de Rosas could do his medical residency at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
“My mother was an old-school mother,” de Rosas said. She made sure all her children were involved in school and other activities and became an active member of the community herself. For many years she was a singer, board member and fundraiser for the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and she also volunteered with Meals on Wheels.
“My mother may not have been a professional woman, but she was a formidable one,” he said.
De Rosas also told how he went to the crash scene himself that day, to see what happened and to get his son, who was with the responding officers.
“My mother’s car was destroyed. It was about 40 feet from the intersection, sitting in an empty yard,” he said. “It looked like it had been hit by a missile.”
De Rosas told how his siblings are still struggling with the loss of their mother, but he also acknowledged that, after seeing how close his son came to death, he can’t help feeling gratitude that the boy escaped uninjured.
An attorney himself, he also said he recognized how difficult it can be to know what exactly constitutes justice.
“I’m aware the defendant didn’t go out on Aug. 20 intending to kill my mother,” he said, but that didn’t excuse his driving so recklessly, so stupidly. “Acceptance of responsibility without being held accountable is not justice.”