Emotions run high in court as family speaks
Friday, February 24, 2012 6:00 PM
MENOMINEE - In criminal cases, our adversarial court system pits the prosecution versus the defense. A jury weighs the evidence presented at trials, and renders their verdict. Normally, one side wins and the other loses. Such was the case in Menominee County Circuit Court on Jan. 14, when Richard Jacques was found guilty of two felonies and one misdemeanor for his role in death of Brett Ingram.
Friday, Jacques was back before Circuit Judge Richard Celello for sentencing, only this time there was no winner or loser, only heartache and tears. In a courtroom packed full of Ingram and Jacques' family and friends, the 39-year-old Menominee man was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison.
Back in January, a 12-member jury found Jacques guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death; failure to stop at the scene of an accident causing death; and removing a dead body without the permission of the county's medical examiner.
The charges stemmed from a Dec. 18, 2010, hit-and-run accident, which claimed the life of the 41-year-old Ingram. By most accounts, including that of Jacques, the men were best friends. According to the prosecution, Jacques and Ingram spent the better part of their last day together drinking and having a good time.
When the night came to a close, the pair stopped for one last beer at Mitch Harris' Menominee County camp. According to testimony from the trial, Ingram wanted to leave and he departed the camp on foot. Approximately 15 minutes later, sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., Jacques got in his van to search for Ingram. Moments later, Jacques' van struck and killed Ingram on W-1 Road in Lake Township.
The following morning, Mark and Janet Sindler discovered Jacques' damaged van in their camp driveway. Jacques was inside the van with the motor running, attempting to commit suicide. In the back of the van was Ingram's body.
During last month's trial, Jacques admitted striking and killing his friend. Yet he claimed he was sober at the time of the accident and was unable to avoid striking Ingram, as he walked down the middle of a dimly-lit back road.
The jury disagreed.
At Friday's sentencing hearing, Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass called on Mark Sindler to testify to the devastation Ingram's death has caused the Sindler family.
The tragic events of Dec. 18, 2010, claimed the life of Sindler's wife Janet's little brother. The couple's two children, Chad, 31, and Sammi, 23, lost an uncle.
Each member of the Sindler family was given a chance to address the court. Fighting back tears, they urged the court to sentence Jacques to the maximum allowed under state law.
"I thought I raised a strong family, but I didn't raise them to be prepared for something like this," Mark Sindler said. "My wife - I go to bed at night and hear her whimpering and crying ... like a puppy trying to get to its mother for help."
His son Chad dealt with the pain and anger in a different way - by distancing himself from his own family.
"Chad was just lost. I think he was so devastated losing his uncle that he lost focus on the all the people that loved him - he just - I don't know what happened to him," Mark said.
According to Janet, her brother Brett loved Chad and Sammi like they were his own children. But as for Jacques, "All he cared about was himself - he had no right to play God that night," Janet said, tears flowing down her face. "I hope I never have to see Rick again after this sentencing."
Sammi Sindler said her uncle Brett taught her how to snowboard the night before he was killed.
Fighting back tears of her own, she said "He showed me how to snowboard and I never got to tell him what it was like."
When it was Chad's turn to speak, he explained how angry he was when he found out Jacques denied being drunk - claimed it was gross negligence on behalf of Ingram for walking down the middle of road - and refused to call the family after striking and killing Brett.
"I'd say any man that could point the finger at the victim that isn't here to defend himself is a coward," Chad said.
When Jacques was given his own chance to speak, he appeared as pain-stricken by Brett's death as the Sindlers.
"I would trade places with Brett in a second if I could," Jacques said, his voice cracking with emotion.
According to Jacques, the moments that led up to the death of his friend continue to haunt him with thoughts of what he could have, would have, or should have done differently.
"I lost my friend - my best friend. I will not forget Brett - he lives in my thoughts - he's still alive in my memories," Jacques muttered through his tears.
Jacques said the two families have spent time together for 20 years. And he begged the Sindlers to someday find it in their hearts to forgive him for what he's done.
After the sentencing, Chad Sindler, who considered Brett both a best friend and a big brother, said forgiveness will not come easy.
"It's always going to be a tragedy, but I know that someday I'm going to get to talk to Brett again, so I think that I'll be able to get over this someday," he said.By CLINTON LANG
EagleHerald staff writer
MENOMINEE - Richard Jacques' sentencing Friday afternoon in Menominee County Circuit Court had a tremendous emotional effect on the family and friends of both Brett Ingram and Richard Jacques. Yet the tragic circumstances of the case were also quite evident on the faces and in the words of Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass, Jacques' defense attorney Beth LaCosse, and Circuit Judge Richard Celello.
Celello's preface to Jacques' sentence was likely heartfelt by everyone in the courtroom.
The judge began by explaining it was beyond his capabilities to fashion a sentence that would bring Brett Ingram back.
"I can't do that, that's for a different dimension, a different life," he said.
As, for Jacques' inner feelings, the judge admitted he had no way of assessing those either.
"I'm not smart enough or intuitive enough to know what's in Mr. Jacques' heart ... I cannot look into Mr. Jacques' heart to see how he feels down deep, but my sense is that he does have regrets about what happened."
As Celello prepared to read Jacques' seven to 15 year sentence, he admitted the court's findings might not seem satisfactory to anyone in the room.
But he said that in his mind, Ingram's death was a tragic accident, as he heard "nothing during the trial to suggest it was intentional."
Still, Celello spoke directly and sternly to Jacques about retribution.
"In terms of retribution, I think when you get out after the sentence, if you get behind the wheel of a car again after drinking alcohol - then I'd have no explanation for that. I would think that if that would occur again, you should never get out of prison."
Hass remarked after the sentencing that it was apparent emotions are still very high more than a year after Ingram's death.
Hass also agreed the situation was tragically unfortunate. He attributed Ingram's death to Jacques getting behind the wheel after heavy drinking, and said he was pleased the judge sentenced Jacques on the "higher end" of the state's guidelines.
After the trial, LaCosse said she respected the jury's verdict in her client's January trial, but admitted she was hoping for a lesser sentence than the one Celello handed down.
She said her client had already acquired counsel to appeal.
In looking back at the events that led to the trial and her client's eventual sentencing, LaCosse said she considered it a tragedy for the community and for all of the families involved.
"If anything positive can come out of this - if people can just think twice before getting in a vehicle after they've consumed too much to drink."
Although there would be no way of knowing, she said there was a chance that Brett's death could help save others, and thought that may be of some consolation to Ingram's family.
"If Brett's family knew that because of this situation, somebody thought twice and didn't get in a car and didn't have a problem."
LaCosse said she is now hopeful that "both families will start the process of healing and compassion and forgiveness."