Drunk Driver Gets 3 Years in Friend's Death
Saturday, October 25, 2008
A 22-year-old Fairfax County man who gunned his mother's BMW over a hill, went airborne and struck a tree in a drunken-driving crash last year, killing one passenger and putting another in a vegetative state, was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison.
Friends and relatives of Morgan E. Cooke, 18, and Daniel Fath, 24, packed into the courtroom of Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush to recount how their lives were devastated by the crash on Wolf Run Shoals Road in Fairfax Station on Nov. 28.
Cooke and Fath were longtime friends of Christopher D. Plaisier, who testified that he was driving the BMW 540i and did not feel that he was intoxicated or under the influence of marijuana when he got behind the wheel after drinking and eating at two bars that night.
It was just after 8:30 p.m. when Plaisier, with Cooke in the front passenger seat and Fath and another young man in the back, turned off Route 123 and onto Wolf Run Shoals. Cooke's eldest brother, Kevin Cooke, said Plaisier accelerated the car over a hill at Suburban Place, known to drivers as a place to "catch air," lost control of the car, went airborne and struck the tree seven feet off the ground.
Cooke lived for five days and underwent multiple surgeries before she died Dec. 3. Fath suffered severe brain trauma, spent six months in the hospital and is now in a long-term-care nursing home in Alexandria.
Prosecutors said that Plaisier's blood-alcohol content was .08, right at the legal definition of intoxication, and that he also had marijuana in his blood. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter while under the influence of alcohol and faced a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.
"We are sentenced to a life of perpetual sadness and grief without Morgan," said her father, Fred Cooke. "Simply and sadly stated, I wanted to be with Morgan. She was my only daughter, my youngest child and truly a daddy's girl."
Kay Cooke, Morgan's mother, looked at the judge and said: "It's madness, that these children are just dying on the roads. What will it take to stop this?"
Kevin Cooke read a list of "likes and dislikes" that Morgan had written. "I love ketchup with eggs," she wrote. "I miss being a kid. I wear footy pajamas. I hate fake girls. I always back into cars, but I swear I'm a good driver. I'm obsessed with shoes. I always have to match. I hate being told what to do. I love being in love."
Daniel Fath also had multiple surgeries, said his mother, Brenda Fath. Now he lies curled in a fetal position in a nursing home. "His eyes are open, he can move a little, but technically, he's non-responsive," she said. "Sometimes he appears to be there, sometimes he doesn't."
There's no telling whether Fath will recover, his mother said. He was a sports junkie, die-hard Redskins fan, "loyal, smart, good-looking," Brenda Fath said. She suggested that Roush sentence Plaisier to spend time taking care of her son.
Plaisier, who was training to be a welder, took the witness stand and wept as he said: "I loved Morgan. I will always love Morgan. I can't say how sorry I am for what I've caused the Cooke family, for what I've caused Daniel. I hung out with Daniel, like, every day. We did everything together." He acknowledged he had a previous reckless driving conviction, for going 97 mph, and spent two days in jail in 2005.
"This case is almost unspeakably tragic on so many levels," Roush said. Although state sentencing guidelines suggested a top sentence of six months, Roush said that was inappropriate. She sentenced Plaisier to 10 years in prison, suspended seven years and added five years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
And she revoked his driver's license.