By Nancy A. Fischer
NEWS NIAGARA REPORTER
Updated: April 15, 2010, 6:55 am / 16 comments
Published: April 15, 2010, 12:44 pm
LOCKPORT — A Texas man who was smoking pot and driving when his rented car crashed into a house, killing his wife, learned Wednesday that he will serve 60 days in Niagara County Jail, a sentence that could be reduced to 45 days for good behavior.
Paul J. Sonnenmeier, 42, of Mesquite, had pleaded guilty Nov. 20 to vehicular manslaughter.
He and his common-law wife of 18 years, Linda Hosler, 45, were both smoking pot when Sonnenmeier crashed the 2009 Lincoln sedan into a house at 5679 Tonawanda Creek Road North in Pendleton at 9:30 a. m. April 27. The homeowner was not injured.
Both Sonnenmeier and Hosler had grown up in the Lockport area. Some family members in the courtroom broke into tears as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Sonnenmeier that he appreciated he had never been in trouble before and had no prior record. But he said, “There had to be some type of consequences for smoking marijuana while operating a vehicle.”
Assistant District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said, “This is so sad. He’s not a bad guy.”
Sonnenmeier’s attorney, John Jordan, asked for no jail time so Sonnenmeier wouldn’t lose his job. He said Hosler was “the love of his life,” and he helped to raise his three stepsons.
Jordan said the two youngest, who are 21 and 25 and are still living with Sonnenmeier, wrote poignant letters of support of his character. The court received an additional 19 letters of support from clergy and other friends.
“Paul is very remorseful and will carry this burden for the rest of his life,” he said of his client. “They were both regular users of marijuana, which I don’t condone, but this would be a tragic loss for the boys to lose both of their parents. I don’t believe jail is an appropriate sanction, and if you put him in jail, he will lose his job.”
Sonnenmeier said he has given up both marijuana and alcohol. “I truly see the error of my ways. Every day I hope I can get through this,” he said.
Jordan asked for weekends in jail and probation in Texas. While Murphy denied the request for no jail time, he did say Sonnenmeier could serve his five years of probation in Texas.
Sonnenmeier was ordered to maintain employment, submit to alcohol and drug testing, and perform 200 hours of community service.
He also was fined $1,000 and told to pay restitution of $17,110 to the homeowner, Joseph Smith, for damage to the house. However, the amount remains under discussion, since insurance may have paid for the damage, and restitution may need to be paid to the rental car firm’s insurance company, according to Jordan.
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