When Gina Nowak tearfully introduced her son in Lucas County Common Pleas Court yesterday, it was by pointing to a photograph of a smiling young man.
She spoke of 23-year-old Brian Eppink II's character, of his devotion to his family, and of his love of animals and desire to become a veterinarian. And she spoke of the bad decision that his best friend, Sarah Karamol, made on April 21, 2005.
After drinking and getting behind the wheel, she was westbound on Berdan Avenue in Toledo when she struck the left side of a truck's trailer that was attempting to turn left from Kelley Avenue. The impact nearly severed the roof of her car.
Mr. Eppink, a passenger in the vehicle, died 12 hours later in Toledo Hospital.
Karamol, 22, of 4145 North Haven Ave., had a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 percent, or more than twice Ohio's legal limit for a motorist of 0.08 percent.
Karamol, who pleaded no contest to one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, was sentenced yesterday to 90 days' incarceration at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio and five years of community control. Judge James Jensen also suspended her driver's license for five years.
"I know you love my son, I know that. You were a part of the family. ... I know you did not do this purposely," Ms. Nowak said to the defendant as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Two of her three surviving children sat stoically in the courtroom.
"I don't know what the answer is," she said. "If I could say, 'Send everyone to jail so I could have Brian back, I'd do that.' I don't know what the answer is."
Jerome Phillips, Karamol's attorney, said that because the truck's trailer was across lanes of traffic, his client should not be the only one considered at fault.
Judge Jensen acknowledged Karamol's lack of a prior record and the fact that she, too, was recovering from the crash, both physically and mentally.
Calling it a "terrible decision," Judge Jensen said he wonders what Karamol's reaction would have been had she been sober.
"You're old enough, you're wise enough to know you should not be in a car after drinking," the judge said.
"You weren't speeding ... but the question is, could you have seen that truck had you not been drinking?"
Surrounded by friends and family after learning her sentence, Karamol simply said that she loved Mr. Eppink.
"That's all I'm saying," she said.
Photographs of Mr. Eppink were carried by family members and one was placed on a poster board along with a letter from Life Connection of Ohio, telling his family about five people who now have a chance at life because of Mr. Eppink's desire to be an organ donor.
Ms. Nowak said knowing that her son helped others is the only solace she's been given in dealing with his death.
"I still miss my boy, but it makes me feel good," she said.
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