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Judge grants leniency in fatal drunk driving case

Former police recruit sentenced to one year in jail

POSTED September 23, 2009 12:09 a.m.
It was a lapse in judgment with fatal consequences that left one family grappling with the senseless loss of a beloved son and brother in a drunk driving accident, and another dealing with the heart-wrenching fact that their son and brother had been behind the wheel of the fatal crash.
It was a tragedy that easily could have created bitterness between two families and split them apart, but it didn’t. Instead, it drew them closer to one another, and on Monday they sat shoulder to shoulder in the back of a courtroom, awaiting the judge’s final decision.
In the end, it was an outcome they had all been hoping for, given the sad circumstances.
Citing the “unusual aspects” of the case and the pleas from both families for leniency, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John G. Whiteside handed down a sentence of one year in the county jail for Ryan Honnette for his role in a drunk driving accident that claimed the life of his friend, Matthew Miller, 25, of Turlock.
“We don’t want to see him punished,” Patricia Miller, Matthew Miller’s mother , told the judge. “He has been punished enough. We ask for leniency for Ryan. It’s what we want and it’s what Matthew would have wanted.”
Honnette, 28, a former police recruit with the Stockton Police Department, had previously pled guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. As part of the plea deal, Honnette was facing a maximum of five years in prison.
Both Miller’s parents, another victim in the crash, and Honnette’s mother stood before the judge and made a plea for leniency on Honnette’s behalf.
“Ryan is a fine young man who made a mistake in judgment,” said Miller’s father, David Miller. “He’s already paying the consequences for that mistake.”
The only one not asking for leniency was the prosecution, who said punishment wasn’t the only reason to send Honnette to prison — it would also serve as a deterrent to others.
“It’s to deter the next person from getting liquored up and getting into a car,” said Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne, who prosecuted the case.
Honnette’s defense attorney, Larry Niermeyer, said “deterrents came in many factions. This is a loss that he will have to endure for the rest of his life.”
The fatal crash occurred on Oct. 18, 2008, when Honnette was driving home with four friends from a Clampers meeting in La Grange. Honnette lost control of his Ford Exposition on the winding roads and the vehicle overturned. Matthew Miller suffered fatal injuries from the crash and was pronounced dead at Oak Valley Hospital. According to the California Highway Patrol’s investigation, Honnette was found to be too intoxicated to negotiate the curves in the road.
After the sentence was handed down, the two mothers cried and hugged one another in the courthouse hallway.
“My son is a good person, who made a tragic mistake,” said Catherine Honnette. “His going to prison would not have served society.”
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.
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