NEW YORK – A van driver who downed drinks before plowing onto a crowded sidewalk near the Empire State Building and killing a pregnant woman on her wedding anniversary was sentenced Monday to seven to 15 years in prison for the rush hour carnage.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro imposed the maximum possible sentence for Keston Brown's conviction on manslaughter and other charges, telling Brown he had no one but himself to blame for the 2009 crash.
Brown, 29, had acknowledged drinking but pinned the crash on mechanical problems with the van. He told the judge Monday he was deeply sorry for the wreck, which killed Ysemny Ramos and her unborn child and injured a friend walking with her.
"It sickens me" to think of what happened, Brown said. "I beat myself up every day."
"I never wanted to hurt anyone," he added as about a dozen of Ramos' family members and friends watched him with tears and ire.
A row of Brown's relatives sat across a courtroom aisle, where his wife sobbed on hearing his sentence and hurried from the room once he was led away.
Brown and Ramos were wrapping up their work weeks and heading home to their families when their paths crossed on March 27, 2009. Brown has six children; Ramos (whose name is pronounced yuh-SEH'-muh-nee RAY'-mohs) and her husband had three and were expecting another.
Ramos, a graphic designer working for an architecture firm, was planning to celebrate her third wedding anniversary that night.
"March 27 was supposed to always be a great and happy day in our life," her husband, Reynaldo Ramos, said Monday. "That day turned into the worst day of my life."
Brown, a handyman for a grocery store chain and an Army veteran, testified at his trial that he'd stopped at a bar and had three beers and a shot of cognac during the hour or so before the crash. His blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit for driving, and he was speeding up and slowing down in the 20-year-old van so a co-worker could catcall at women, prosecutors and witnesses said.
Brown denied the antics and said he lost control of the van because its engine abruptly failed.
The van jumped a curb, pinned Ramos to the ground and tore her body in two, according to trial testimony.
While jurors convicted Brown last month of manslaughter, they acquitted him of the more serious charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which would have carried a potential 25-year prison term.
Saying that Brown's drinking had doubtless hindered his ability to respond to any problems with the van, the judge told him that "but for your intoxicated condition, this accident, as you put it, would never have happened."
"This may be tragic for your family, but it was your doing," the judge said.
Brown's lawyer, Patrick Watts, declined to comment after the sentencing.
Meanwhile, Ramos' younger sister, Rosalie Rodriguez, reflected on a growing stack of family photos without Ramos in them, as holidays and milestones have come and gone since her death.
"Memories are great, but she wasn't supposed to go," Rodriguez told the court. "The memory-making wasn't supposed to stop, not yet."
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