VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – An admitted drunk driver will serve 47 years in prison after a DUI crash that killed a Great Bridge High School senior and permanently injured her best friend and classmate.
Circuit Court Judge H. Thomas Padrick gave Jerode D. Johnson the maximum sentence – even though sentencing guidelines recommended between five and 11 years.
“What could be worse than what actually happened here?” asked Judge Padrick before sentencing. “Every bit of this was preventable.”
In May, Johnson pleaded guilty to aggravated involuntary manslaughter, DUI maiming, hit-and-run, possession of cocaine, DUI and driving on a suspended license.
Prosecutors say Johnson was drinking up until he got behind the wheel of a furniture box truck on May 19, 2017. They say he eventually lost control of the truck along Indian River Road and slammed into Kaitlyn Duffy’s SUV.
Duffy and her passenger, Sabrina Mundorff, were driving home from Sandbridge Beach. Both girls were seniors at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake who were set to graduate the following month before starting their freshman year of college at Virginia Tech.
“Nothing is the same. Life doesn’t feel right without her,” said Ryan Duffy, Kaitlyn’s brother, from the stand on Monday. “I miss everything about our relationship.”
Tammy and Scott Duffy, Kaitlyn’s parents, say the sentence is the justice they have been seeking for almost 16 months.
“She was just a bright light that was snuffed out, but today I feel like we did her justice,” said Mrs. Duffy.
The courtroom was packed with family and friends of the Duffy family, many of whom were wearing pins with Kaitlyn’s picture.
In the row behind Johnson, his sister, cousin and other loved ones sat during the roughly five-hour hearing.
Johnson issued his first apology to the family before the judge read his sentence.
“I am very sorry,” said Johnson. “I care and love every single person on this earth … I realize I did something that was harshly wrong.”
“I am a good person,” he later said.
Mr. and Mrs. Duffy say they are not yet ready to accept his apology, but they will reconsider in the future.
“It was better to get [an apology] than not get it, I’d say. At least we got one, because up until this point I haven’t seen any remorse whatsoever,” said Mr. Duffy.
Mundorff’s mother, Debbie Leger, says her daughter spent four months in multiple hospitals. Her recovery included learning how to talk, walk and swallow.
One year later than planned, Mundorff started classes at Virginia Tech this semester. Leger says she is determined to live as normal of a life as possible despite being left with the effects of a traumatic brain injury, limited mobility in her arm and emotional wounds that will likely never fully heal.
“She is a miracle,” Leger said.