LIMA — Emotions were running high in Allen County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday as a vehicular homicide case that started in 2016 was tearfully resolved.
Zachery Brown, 23, a resident of Waterford, Michigan and a former student at the University of Northwestern Ohio, was sentenced to 54 months in prison for causing a drunk-driving crash in November of 2016 that claimed the life of 18-year-old Brenden Wale, another Michigan resident and UNOH student.
Family members representing both the victim and the defendant spoke passionately prior to the imposition of sentence by Judge Jeffrey Reed.
Brown was indicted by an Allen County grand jury in January 2017 on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony; aggravated vehicular homicide, a third-degree felony; and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, first-degree misdemeanors.
In a negotiated deal with prosecutors, Brown on Tuesday agreed to plead guilty to the third-degree felony count of aggravated vehicular homicide in exchange for the state’s dismissal of all remaining charges.
Defense Attorney Jeffrey Linn II also said his client would be eligible to apply for early judicial release after serving 180 days in prison. Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Juergen Waldick said the state would oppose any motion for judicial release.
Brown was driving Wale’s vehicle on the evening of Nov. 10, 2016, when he crashed on state Route 115, three miles south of the Putnam County line. Brown told police he had consumed two beers in the hours leading up to the crash, but a toxicologist with the Lucas County Coroner’s Office later issued a report that Brown’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was “at least” 0.086 grams per deciliter.
Wale was found by officers of the Ohio State Highway Patrol slumped over in the passenger seat of Brown’s car following the crash, with no apparent vital signs. The reporting officer noted Brown’s speech was slurred at the time he was found at the crash scene.
Wale’s father, mother, stepmother, grandmothers and aunt addressed the court prior to sentencing. All spoke directly to Brown and described the loss his “reckless” actions caused their family.
“On Nov. 10, 2016, you devastated our family because you chose to drink and drive,” said Stacey Wale, Brenden’s step-mother. “Zack, you have destroyed so many lives and I believe you should receive the full sentence of the law.”
Wale’s mother also asked Reed to impose the max sentence and to deny any future requests for early release from prison. “Zack needs to learn there are consequences for his actions,” she said.
Wale’s father, David, did not attempt to hide his contempt for Brown. Holding a poster with a photo of his deceased son, David Wale first addressed Brown’s family. “We don’t hate you guys,” he said. “We just don’t like the treatment we’ve gotten here.”
Addressing Zack Brown, the elder Wale said, “You’ve destroyed my life. I have nothing left. And you’re getting 4 1/2 years? That’s disgusting.”
Brown’s mother told the Wale family, “You have my heartfelt apologies. Nobody’s winning in this courtroom today. We’ve all lost.”
The defendant choked back tears and said, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel crushed.”
In addition to his prison sentence, Reed ordered Brown’s driver’s license suspended for life.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.