A man who rammed his car into a Washington bus stop, killing seven people and injuring two others, was sentenced to a minimum of 35 years in prison yesterday, moments after he told a survivor of the accident and relatives of the victims that he was sorry and would give his "own life to save those kids."
In a voice strong with emotion, Robert Lee Williams, who earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges, turned to family members who sat sobbing in the courtroom's front row and said he "didn't intend to hurt anyone" when his car hit a median strip and veered into the bus stop in Southeast last Aug. 25.
Williams, 42, blamed the accident on the heroin he had used about 25 minutes before the crash. He said he also had been drinking earlier that day.
"I know how the families must feel," Williams said, staring back at the first row. "I love kids. I have kids of my own."
Charron McKethean McLaughlin, who was seriously injured and whose 6-month-old daughter and best friend were killed that day, turned away as Williams looked at her. Her mother trembled in the seat next to her and the mother of McLaughlin's best friend, Linda Taylor, hugged McLaughlin's 2 1/2-month-old baby.
"I couldn't look at the man that killed my daughter," McLaughlin said later, catching her breath and crying quietly. "The sentence was reasonable, but it is not going to bring back any of our lives."
Judge Eugene M. Hamilton sternly lectured Williams that the seven lives would have been spared if he had not driven while intoxicated. "You knew that just as well as night follows day" how the drugs and alcohol would affect you, Hamilton said.
Hamilton sentenced Williams to 35 to 105 years in prison. Williams pleaded guilty in May to two counts of manslaughter while armed (with a car) and five counts of manslaughter. Williams also received a 90-day sentence for driving while intoxicated.
Williams had been on parole for about six weeks on a bank robbery conviction at the time of the accident. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles L. Hall, who prosecuted the case, urged Hamilton to consider Williams' long criminal record, including nearly 10 convictions since 1963, in sentencing him.
"It sends a very good signal to others in the community that judges will deal very seriously with drunk drivers who either kill or injure," said U.S. Attorney Josesph E. diGenova.
The accident occurred in the 200 block of M Street SE. McLaughlin's father, John McKethean, told a reporter he heard the crash and pulled Williams from his car before he saw his daughter screaming and his granddaughter lying face down.
At the time of the accident, McLaughlin, Taylor and Taylor's fiance -- the other survivor of the accident -- were going shopping to buy a dress for McLaughlin's daughter, who was to be christened the next day. The three were waiting at the bus stop with other friends when McLaughlin pointed out a car traveling at a high speed on the opposite side of the street, which then hit a median strip.