QUEENSBURY — Alexander M. West was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in state prison Monday for last summer’s fatal boat crash on Lake George following a tearful and emotional proceeding that saw three family members of victim Charlotte McCue confront him.
Warren County Judge John Hall imposed the prison term after hearing poignant victim’s impact statements from McCue’s family members, and hearing West make his first public statements about the case but stop short of an apology.
The loved ones of Charlotte told of the horrific night she died, and the continuing physical and emotional impacts the death has had on them. They asked for the maximum sentence.
Charlotte’s mother, Courtney McCue, said she has been an “empty shell of a woman” and a “zombie” since the crash, and would trade her life to bring back her daughter.
She called Charlotte a “spectacular, freckly-faced firecracker with a scratchy voice.” Other family members talked of her courage and her infectious laugh.
She grew up on Lake George, but now “will always look at the lake with sadness and grief,” Courtney McCue said.
“It’s impossible to wrap my arms around my grief,” she told Hall.
Christine Knarr, step-grandmother of Charlotte, said West made a decision to party and drive his father’s boat impaired, which she likened to a “loaded gun.”
“Alexander West has shattered the hearts of four generations of our family,” she said.
Robert Knarr, Charlotte’s grandfather and the driver of the boat West hit, read a statement from Charlotte’s father, Eric McCue. He did not attend the sentencing because he couldn’t “stand” to be in the same room with West, who he called a “coward.”
“He killed my daughter. He maimed my wife. He scarred my children and has emotionally crippled countless members of my extended family,” Knarr read from his son-in-law’s statement.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan read a statement from Charlotte’s older sister, Madison, in which she said she just wanted her sister to come back. Charlotte’s 4-year-old brother, Cooper, thought a pirate took her sister and would eventually bring her back.
West told the victims’ families that he has been remorseful and has “regret” and that he is “haunted” by the crash.
“I want you and the McCue family to know I pray for all of us every day,” he told Hall.
There was confusion over just how long a sentence West could have faced.
Hall imposed the maximum term for second-degree manslaughter, but said he believed the terms should, by law, run concurrently. Both the defense and prosecution believed he could have imposed consecutive terms for the crimes related to the collision and for the act of fleeing the scene afterward.
Hogan said she believed 7 1/3 to 22 years was possible, but her office was gratified that the jury convicted West and Hall imposed the maximum for the top charge.
“He is going to be in prison for up to 15 years,” she said. “The reality is, no matter what sentence was imposed, it is not going to bring back Charlotte.”
Defense lawyer Cheryl Coleman said she believed West would get the maximum of 7 1/3 to 22 years with consecutive sentences, but she was “grateful” he did not. He will be eligible for parole after 5 years and would automatically be released at 10 years if he does not have disciplinary problems in prison.
“There’s no doubt it could have been worse,” she said.
Coleman said the convictions will be appealed. It will likely take at least a year before the appeal is heard, however.
West, 25, of Lake George, was found guilty May 8 of eight charges in the July 25 crash that killed 8-year-old Charlotte, a jury convicting him of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an accident and lesser counts.
The jury found after a three-week trial that West was impaired by alcohol when he drove his father’s boat into one being driven by Charlotte’s grandfather, killing Charlotte and seriously injuring her mother.
Because his convictions were for what the state consider’s “non-violent” felonies, Hall was limited to indeterminate sentence in which the minimum is one-third of the maximum.
That means he will have to serve the minimum portion before he becomes eligible for release on parole.
Becoming eligible for parole does not mean he will be released. Loved ones of the victims will have a chance to make a case to keep him behind bars for at least another two years.
Warren County Sheriff Bud York said he will be taken to state prison when the Department of Corrections & Community Supervision notifies the Sheriff’s Office that it has a cell available, likely in three or four days.
He will go to a state prison classification center at one of two maximum-security prisons, Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora or Downstate Correctional Facility, where correction officials will determine where he should be housed going forward.
The nighttime crash happened after West and friends spent the day at an all-day lake party known as Log Bay Day, drinking and using drugs. The crash has led to efforts to end the annual party, and his friends face misdemeanor charges for allegedly lying to police and/or obstructing the police investigation.
West’s counsel had claimed he was not impaired and that he was not to blame for the nighttime crash near Cramer Point. He left the scene and abandoned his boat at a motel to the south, and turned himself in about 11 hours after the crash.
The jury rebuffed those claims, finding him guilty of the weightiest charges after about 11 hours of deliberations over two days.
While prosecutors had said there had been no plea talks, Coleman said Monday that there were plea discussions at some point about a deal that would have required West to serve 4 2/3 to 14 years in state prison.