Brian Meegan will serve nine years in jail as part of a 15-year sentence in the death of bicyclist Russell Henman, who was killed July 1, 2012.
Meegan, 37, had pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree vehicular homicide and driving while intoxicated in the death of Henman, 44, on the service road just outside Rehoboth Beach. Henman was riding his bicycle home when Meegan, whose blood-alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit, hit him with his 2003 Jeep Wrangler.
Meegan was driving home from his job as a bartender at the Double L in Rehoboth, where prosecutors said he had been taking shots throughout the night.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes handed Meegan the maximum sentence under the law. He will serve at least 75 percent to 80 percent of the sentence, meaning Meegan will serve at least nine years in jail, Deputy Attorney General Mark Cutrona said.
Clad in a white Department of Correction jumpsuit and glasses, Meegan was allowed to read a letter in his defense.
“Words cannot express how sorry I am for what happened that night,” he said.
Meegan got about halfway through his letter before breaking down into tears. His attorney, John Sandy, read the remainder of the letter, saying Meegan wants to get help for his alcohol addiction and to try to be helpful every day. While that will not bring Henman back, Meegan wrote, he wants something positive to come out of the experience.
In response, Cutrona asked Henman’s mother, Joyce, to read a letter of her own.
“Russ is the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think of when I go to bed,” she said. "I feel like there is a hole in my heart, and the emptiness and the loneliness in my heart will never go away.”
The courtroom was filled with Henman’s family and friends, many of whom started sobbing as Joyce Henman read her letter.
Cutrona filled in the details of Meegan’s background and what happened the night Henman was killed. He said Meegan was an admitted alcoholic who had previously been arrested for DUI in New York in 2005 and in Delaware in May 2012. Cutrona said Meegan consumed alcohol as a bartender even though he knew he was an alcoholic.
The night he struck and killed Henman, Cutrona said, Meegan had been drinking during his entire shift at the Double L. He then got behind the wheel of his Jeep. Cutrona said Meegan struck Henman and sent him up and over the car, destroying Henman’s bicycle, which had working safety features. Meegan had attempted to leave the scene of the accident, but his Jeep had a flat tire when he pulled into the CVS parking lot, Cutrona said.
He said Meegan’s blood alcohol content was 0.21; the legal limit is 0.08. Cutrona asked Stokes for a six-year sentence.
“Rusty didn’t deserve to die,” Cutrona said. “He [Meegan] deserves every day of six years.”
In a brief rebuttal, Sandy said Meegan had been a good citizen, much like Henman, up until 2001, when he found out he was HIV positive. From there, Sandy said, Meegan’s life spiraled into drug and alcohol use. He asked Stokes for a three-year sentence.
In making his ruling, Stokes said, “This is a case that is a tragic one. A case of a person who has a disease and whose disease led to the death of a very special person.”
Stokes said while Meegan did not intend to kill Henman that night, when he was taking shots at the bar and then decided to get behind the wheel, he became a danger.
In addition to jail time, Stokes also ordered Meegan to pay the cost of prosecution, restitution of a little more than $5,000 and a $750 fine. Once his jail time is up, Meegan will have a period of probation and must complete outpatient alcohol treatment.
After the judge's decision, Joyce Henman said she was happy with the sentence.
John Painter, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Meegan will likely serve most of his sentence at Sussex Correctional Institute in Georgetown.
Henman’s friend Troy Reynolds said the family and friends were not out for revenge, but they wanted to make sure Henman received justice. Reynolds, an HIV survivor himself, said being HIV positive is no excuse for drug and alcohol abuse. Reynolds said he had not expected a sentence of 15 years.
To carry on Henman’s memory, Reynolds said, his family and friends plan to lobby the state for more stringent DUI laws for habitual offenders to get them off the road and keep what happened to Henman from happening again.
Cutrona said, "This terrible tragedy could have been avoided with a responsible decision to not get behind the wheel on the night of July 1, 2012. The prison sentence handed down today is appropriate and it should serve as a reminder of the severe consequences drivers face when they choose to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol."
"Our thoughts remain with the victim’s family and we hope today’s sentencing provides some measure of closure as they continue to heal from their loss,” he said.