Nearly two years after losing her 17-year-old son in a fatal traffic accident, Judy Anderson got to hear "I'm sorry" from the Swanton man who caused the fiery crash.
The emotional apology was given yesterday during a hearing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court held to modify the prison sentence and grant early release for Jeffrey Stefanski, 20, who was convicted in March, 2006, of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault.
His reckless driving was blamed for the death of Robert "Bobby" Anderson and serious injuries sustained by Mr. Anderson's passengers, Kayla King and Amber Ankenbrandt, in an April 9, 2005, collision on Airport Highway near Toledo Express Airport.
Stefanski served about 11 months of a three-year, four-month sentence. In addition to the prison term, Stefanski's driver's license was suspended for 10 years.
When given the opportunity to make a statement, Stefanski struggled with tears.
"I had no intention to cause this accident or hurt anyone, but many [people] were," he said. "I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and suffering that everyone is going through."
Speaking to Mr. Anderson's mother and family, Stefanski asked for forgiveness.
"You have it, Jeff," Mrs. Anderson told him.
In modifying the sentence he imposed in March, 2006, Judge Gary Cook said a letter of support for early release from Mrs. Anderson played an important part in his decision. "Because of her understanding, I have fashioned this [modification]," Judge Cook said.
In granting judicial release, Judge Cook placed Stefanski on community control for three years, ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service, and pay restitution of nearly $490,000 to the Andersons' insurance company and the injured passengers.
Authorities said Stefanski, of 14040 Reed Rd., Swanton, was driving erratically when he cut off Mr. Anderson's eastbound car, which then went left of center, collided with an oncoming tractor-trailer, and burst into flames.
Mr. Anderson was pronounced dead at the scene. Ms. King and Ms. Ankenbrandt, who were passengers in Mr. Anderson's car, were treated at Toledo Hospital.
Stefanski fled but later surrendered to authorities.
After leaving the courtroom yesterday, the defendant's mother and father greeted Mrs. Anderson with tearful hugs, and each parent thanked her for not opposing their son's release from prison. "Kids are kids," Mrs. Anderson told them.
Mrs. Anderson, of Monclova Township, said that if the situation were reversed and her son were in prison, she would have wanted the same thing.
A prison sentence "will not bring my son back," she said. "I know it was not his intention to hurt anyone. Hopefully, he will come out of this a better person."
Her son, who was a student at the Penta Career Center, a vocational school in Perrysburg Township, was entering his 10th year as a survivor of childhood cancer, she said.
Alan Konop, an attorney for Stefanski, said the accident devastated his client.
"It was a tragedy. My client was deeply remorseful at the time and he still is. It is something that he had to live with, and it has been very difficult," he said.