Friday, March 28, 2003

Deadly driver handed 20 years

Man convicted in teen's death also gets license taken

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Taylor promised the paraplegic man he'd get a harsh sentence if he didn't take responsibility for killing a teen-ager and injuring three others when he drove into a crowd outside a Bengals game two years ago.

Taylor made good on that promise Thursday.

He sentenced Darrin Stafford, 31, of Evansville, Ind., to spend 20 years in prison and suspended his driver's license for life.

"He showed an utter lack of concern for the victims,'' Taylor said.

Stafford was driving a car that wasn't equipped for his handicap and had been drinking so heavily the night before the game there was still small traces of alcohol his system two hours after the accident, Taylor said. And he did all that with a suspended license.

Frederick Shipman, 44, also of Evansville, owned the vehicle Stafford was driving, and was a passenger during the Nov. 18, 2001 crash on Second Street. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Shipman pleaded guilty March 3 to aggravated vehicular homicide for killing 15-year-old Scott Asbrock, of Mason, and to three counts of vehicular assault for injuring Stewart Williams, 23, of Middletown; Kyle Fields, 19, of Madeira; and Cincinnati Police Officer Jon Harris.

But Stafford took his case on the same charges to trial, maintaining he had not been driving. Stafford accused Shipman, who had been drinking that day, of driving when the SUV veered out of control. He says Shipman grabbed him and switched seats with him.

Taylor and a jury didn't believe him. The jury found Stafford guilty of the same charges Feb. 28.

Thursday, Shipman said he and Stafford were on their way to the game from Indiana when they stopped at a gas station near the state border. Shipman went inside and when he returned, Stafford had maneuvered into the driver's seat and insisted on driving.

Stafford said during his trial that Shipman had been drinking, but Shipman refused to comment on his sobriety during testimony. Shipman added that he tried to stop Stafford, but eventually gave in.

As Scott's mother, Kimberly Asbrock, prepared herself for Taylor's ruling, bagpipe music flowed into the courtroom as musicians outside prepared for the funeral of Cincinnati firefighter Oscar Armstrong III.

"That just set us off," she said wiping even more tears off her cheeks. "It was almost like Scott was talking to us."

Shipman apologized to the family during the hearing.

Stafford declined to speak at the hearing, but wrote a letter to the Asbrocks, which has been placed in the court record.

He writes: "I have to put my trust in God. I hope that he will be with your family through this time. Also, I hope that through him you will one day find it in your heart to forgive me."

Michael Asbrock said the sentence is fair.


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