Joyua Stovall shuffled into court Friday with a cane in one hand, holding onto her 3-year-old daughter with the other. The 31-year-old mother of two was there to see Lori Phillips sentenced for severely injuring her and killing her fiance, Louis Clement, the little girl's father, in a 2009 head-on Seward Highway collision.
"It's been a road," Stovall said. "It feels like a long one."
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Philip Volland later sentenced Phillips, 58, to serve 20 years in prison. A jury convicted the retired and once highly paid accountant and chief financial officer in 2010 on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault, drunken driving, driving with a revoked license and reckless driving. It was her third conviction for driving impaired and the fifth time she faced such charges.
Phillips had the equivalent of about 18 shots of liquor in her system when she left a hair salon and drove into rush hour traffic, piloting her Ford Explorer about 10 miles, driving in the oncoming lane at times, Volland said.
Stovall said she remembered a few things from the fatal wreck. A car ahead of their small Toyota sedan swerved to avoid Phillips' SUV, Stovall said. Then the Toyota shattered from the Explorer's impact. Someone told her later the car's engine slammed into Clement, killing him.
"I saw him die, and he just squeezed my hand," Stovall said. "When I woke up, I was a pretzel."
Stovall went into a coma that lasted three months. Her portion of the hospital bill was about $1.3 million, she said. Three hours later, Phillips' blood-alcohol content registered 0.328, more than four times the legal limit to drive.
"It is literally true that Ms. Phillips' driving, swerving two lanes over, in the dark, at oncoming cars put hundreds of others at risk," Volland said. "And not only drunk but as drunk as you can get without being dead."
Earlier during the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Clint Campion read letters from Clement's parents, who asked for the maximum sentence and said Phillips had changed all their lives for the worse. Then Stovall spoke.
"The normal life I once knew is gone forever," Stovall said. "Lori Phillips took my child's father from her. I have to hear my youngest one ask, all the time, where her father is and why doesn't her dad come home. All the time. My girls are always scared whenever I go out the door. They're always worried."
Stovall said she worries too about how to be a good mother to the girls. Pain in her spine makes it hard to play with them, she said.
Phillips' family and friends told the judge that Phillips was a caring person and deeply remorseful about what she'd done. Her lawyer said Phillips' daughter, before dying at 22 as the result of heroin addiction, had been abusive and likely contributed to Phillips' drinking.
But Campion said it was "totally inappropriate" for Phillips to blame her daughter. And Phillips' long history of alcohol abuse, which culminated in a horrific, avoidable death, was evidence of her poor prospects for rehabilitation, Campion said.
"It's far too late for this to be the earth-shattering moment when Lori Phillips finally realizes she has a problem, that she's created a danger for our community," Campion said. "Her life has become a tragedy because of her unwillingness to deal with her problems. ... I think the only thing that will stop her from drinking is keeping her locked up."
Phillips, whose expression remained flat throughout the hearing, declined to give a statement. Phillips' lawyer, Andrew Lambert, said she felt that her supporters had addressed her concerns and she didn't have anything to add.
"But she doesn't want it to be interpreted like she doesn't care," Lambert said.
It was the last of many opportunities for Phillips to say she was sorry, Stovall said afterward outside the courtroom. The 20-year sentence wasn't enough, Stovall said, and she didn't believe that Phillips was remorseful, even right after the wreck.
"I didn't see any big heart. I didn't see any remorse. I didn't see any apology," Stovall said. "When I woke up, the first thing I did was ask who was hurt."
Stovall had last entered the courtroom in a wheelchair to testify at Phillips' trial. She's doing better now, she said, but is still dealing with constant pain.
"I have to take it one day at a time. Fit into society without freaking out and not going down a bad road. And it helped hearing her story a little because," she said, looking at her daughter, Janiece, "I don't want generations of screwed-up mess like that."
By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News