The Stony Brook woman who to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of the accident that killed 11-year-old Courtney Sipes was sentenced Wednesday morning to four to 12 years in prison, the maximum for the charges she faced.
Judge Stephen Braslow said he will recommend Maureen Lambert not be released early, citing her years of drug use and telling her he did not feel sorry for her.
"Don't delude yourself that this was an accident," Braslow said.
Lambert, 21, admitted to using heroin before getting behind the wheel of her 2002 Chevy Avalanche on Nov. 24, 2009, the night she struck Courtney Sipes on Main Street in Smithtown and fled the scene. Lambert cried as she read an apology to the Sipes family in a packed Riverhead courtroom.
"I wish I could trade places with your family, because I never meant for this to happen," she said.
Her apology followed nearly half an hour of emotional reflections from Courtney's immediate family, during which mother Lavena Sipes called for the judge to impose the maximum sentence and said even that "will never be enough" for the family to feel justice had been served.
"You recklessly chose to take heroin and get in the driver's seat of an SUV," Lavena Sipes said. "The life you took was beyond precious, beyond gifted, beyond special."
The case has not only spurred traffic safety improvements on Main Street in Smithtown, but it has also drawn attention to the rise in heroin use in Long Island's middle-class and affluent neighborhoods. After the sentencing, Jeffrey Kimmel, an attorney representing the Sipes family, called for community solutions, more parental attention, and increased police involvement in the fight against heroin.
"We do need to come together as a community to address this epidemic," he said, calling Lambert's case a "wake-up call to parents to be a little introspective ... and ask earnestly, 'Is my child alright?'"
Kimmel also said the family has started a foundation in Courtney's memory and is pushing for a change in the laws concerning drivers who leave the scene of an accident. According to Kimmel, a loophole exists which gives drivers who flee the scene while under the influence of drugs or alcohol the chance to sober up and possibly avoid substance-related charges.
Lambert waited 26 hours to turn herself in following the accident. A drug test administered by police showed signs of recent heroin use. Records also showed Lambert had multiple traffic violations and a recent license suspension.
Lambert's mother left the courtroom in tears on Wednesday and did not speak to reporters.