After apologizing to a packed courtroom of friends and family members of a woman she killed while driving under the influence of heroin last year, a 46-year-old woman was sentenced this week to 16 years in prison.
Sheree Ann Shaw of Twin Lakes, Wis., pleaded guilty in April to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence.
She admitted to driving a Ford Taurus, without a valid driver’s license, and crossing over the center lines along Richmond Road in McHenry, Ill., on the seemingly perfect dry and sunny afternoon of May 6, 2016.
Shaw struck a Harley-Davidson Rode Glide motorcycle driven by Michael Thornton who was traveling with a passenger, Amy Thornton, 42, his wife of nearly 20 years.
Michael Thornton, 40, has undergone several surgeries and painful rehabilitation since the crash. His wife, a well-known nurse at Centegra Hospital in Woodstock, never resumed consciousness. She died from her injuries nine days later in the hospital.
During the hourlong sentencing hearing, where Shaw and others often wept quietly, Michael Thornton broke down into tears detailing the “devastating” loss of his wife, multiple surgeries his painful emotional and physical rehabilitation and months of lost work.
He also said there has been a deep divide among once close family and friends and he has had to to rely on his son’s to help him with such basic tasks as showering. He said he has “screws in place to hold my left side together” and has “no use of his left foot.”
Michael Thornton said the day started out for the the two of them taking advantage of overdue vacation time from their jobs. They rode the motorcycle and had lunch in Lake Geneva, Wis., where they discussed their older son’s college plans. The Woodstock couple, who once enjoyed riding the motorcycle together, were on their way to his parents’ house in McHenry when they were struck.
He described the moments before the crash saying “I can’t stop hearing her voice saying ‘Mike’ … squeezing me (while I was) trying to avoid the collision.”
He then recalls lying on the pavement, seeing red knowing it was his own blood, and calling out for his wife who did not respond. Shaw broke down as he described these devastating moments.
The next time he would see her would be three days later “unresponsive to my voice” in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. She was braindead, he said.
He described his wife as his “best friend … (someone) who thought of others before herself.”
Michael Thornton said this was no accident as some have said. He said it “could have been avoided” but Shaw had “zero respect for the law that day” when she chose to drive a vehicle under the influence of heroin. Had she not done that “I would not have lost Amy.”
Michael Thornton read letters from his two sons who also sat in the courtroom.
His son Zachary Thornton said “I wish we could return to the way we once were.”
He said his mother “was the cohesiveness of our family. (Our family) was centered around our mom. We have to live without our mother for the rest of our lives.”
Younger son Michael Thornton wrote that his mom “was the nicest person … and (Shaw) took her away.”
Other family members spoke of her humor and selflessness. Her mother Susan Sweet said her daughter would have been one who would have helped Shaw with her addiction.
“The defendant will never know what she has taken from us,” Sweet said. “I hold her memory close to my heart because that is all I have.”
Shaw’s daughter Alexandria Burdette of Las Vegas said her mom is a “wonderful … person who has fallen to … drug addiction.”
She said her mother, also a nurse, had a difficult childhood with her own parents and a hard life. She suffered bipolar and depression and they often lived paycheck to paycheck, but her mother was always there for her and her two younger siblings and a “great mom” who showered them with “unconditional love.”
“She is my mentor, confidant, strength … dearest friend,” Burdette said.
But, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs described Shaw as a “selfish drug addict” and said the crime was “outrageous” and asked for the maximum prison sentence of 26 years.
“It was her choice to drive,” Combs said. “It was her choice to destroy that family.”
Assistant Public Defender Angelo Mourelatos said Shaw is remorseful for what she has done and by choosing to plead guilty and not drag the family through a trial shows she has “taken accountability.”
He said her drug addiction began with prescription drugs prescribed for health issues He said she began with amphetamines and cocaine in 2014 which lead to heroin and her addiction spiraled. In asking for leniency he said she has been in treatment since being in jail. He said she had a difficult childhood and was emotionally abused and is a caring person with “very limited” criminal history and unlike.y to commit another criminal act.
Shaw stood and said “I was not in my right mind at the time of the accident.”
She said she has had sleepless nights and will continue to “carry the burden of knowing” she killed Amy Thornton.
Shaw asked the judge for leniency and apologized to the nearly 30 family and friends in the courtroom who were wearing T-shirts with Amy Thornton’s picture on the front and angel wings on the back.
“Please give me a chance to right my wrong … I am not a bad person. I’m begging you to forgive me even though I cannot give back what you have lost.”
In handing down the sentence Judge Sharon Prather said she believed Shaw was remorseful. She noted Shaw’s long history of drug addiction and said “it’s a shame that it got to this point.”
She gave condolences to the family and acknowledged that no sentence will bring back Amy Thornton.
“This is a horrendous crime,” Prather said. “This is a serious crime.”
She is required to serve 85 percent of her sentence and will receive credit for time served in jail since last year.