Forgiveness elusive for friend of Henniker DWI victim
For Robert Bellefeuille, the heartache caused when his best friend was killed by a drunken driver never completely went away. Three-and-a-half years later, the void in his life has yet to be filled - and he feels it never will.
'The morning I got the phone call that Sean was killed, I will never forget the feeling,' said Bellefeuille, a Londonderry resident. 'I went numb. It was like someone had just injected my body with a huge dose of Novocain and I collapsed.'
The 'Sean' that Bellefeuille refers to is Sean Powers, a Hopkinton police officer and Hillsborough resident, who was killed at age 24 when he was struck from behind by a car while riding his motorcycle on Route 202 in Henniker on Aug. 14, 2008. Jeffrey Dennis, 22, of Henniker was driving the BMW that hit Powers. He fled the scene on foot and was later charged with negligent homicide and DWI. Dennis would eventually strike a plea deal and was sentenced to 5 to 15 years on two felony counts of negligent homicide and one count of conduct after an accident, with a judge ruling that all but four years could be suspended.
Bellefeuille said the recent four-part series on New Hampshire DWI statistics and enforcement efforts, which ran over two consecutive weeks in the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, brought memories of that time rushing back - particularly the fact that Dennis will be eligible for parole later this year.
'Mr. Dennis does not know how many lives he affected that day,' said Bellefeuille. 'The heartache he has caused reaches far beyond Sean's family. His death changed my life forever. My mother said it best when she talks about seeing myself and the group of friends that gathered after his death, the people Sean grew up with. She said it was like someone pulled the innocence out of us. We were all 24 years old, in the prime of our lives, but all the hopes and dreams we shared were snatched in one moment. A moment that could have easily been avoided.'
New Hampshire Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said this week that Dennis will be eligible for parole on Aug. 12.
Bellefeuille said he feels more worried traveling on New Hampshire roads after reading the Union Leader series, and the statistic that over 14,000 individuals had four or more DWI convictions on their New Hampshire driving record as of Dec. 31, 2011. He said no one else should experience the loss he and those who knew and loved Powers went through.
'Sean's sister-in-law was pregnant at the time with twin boys, and ended up going into labor that day because of the stress,' said Bellefeuille. 'She delivered two healthy boys who have Sean's spirit and the twinkle that Sean once had. We all gathered at the Powers' house that day, it was where all of his friends felt like we needed to be. We all sat out on the deck in silence, then someone would speak up with a funny story that would be followed by tears. The town of Hillsborough was devastated too. Everywhere you turned in town there were signs and people talking about his death and legacy.'
Dennis' plea deal in 2008 was struck after his attorneys argued that police never obtained a warrant before acquiring one of three blood samples from him the day of his arrest. It was his third DWI arrest.
Bellefeuille said he feels the DWI laws in New Hampshire could be tougher than they are currently.
'If we had tougher laws in place, I feel this accident could have been prevented,' said Bellefeuille. 'I can remember during the trial we all thought for sure he was going to be sentenced to a long prison term. This was Dennis' third DWI and in this accident he also fled the scene and was on the run for six hours. If you flee the scene of a fender bender you get in big trouble. This was a vehicular homicide. We were shocked.'
Bellefeuille has a hard time coming to terms with the possibility that Dennis could be out of prison this summer.
'Frankly, I am a forgiving person,' said Bellefeuille. 'However, as much as I try to forgive him for his mistake he made that night, I find it hard to forgive. There is a part of me that wants to forgive him. I know that people make mistakes. But when it is your third time being charged with a DWI and the fact that he left Sean laying in the road ... personally I find it hard to forgive.'
'All of our lives were changed that day,' said Bellefeuille. 'The days, months and years after his passing have been full of sadness, anger and moments of joy. I have changed the way I look at things. I always try to make sure when friends have been drinking that they have safe rides home. When I drink, I hand over the keys to a sober driver. When I got married in 2010, I remember it being the happiest day of my life by far, but there was someone missing. We were a tight group of guys in school and post graduation, and all the guys were there in my wedding party, except Sean. It just felt incomplete.'