East sentenced to 25 years
A woman was sentenced to 25 years in prison Monday for a hit-and-run accident in 2007 that killed an Army soldier home on leave for the holidays.
Ashley East, 27, was found guilty Dec. 28, 2009, of one count each of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious bodily injury and DUI causing person and or property damage. Prior to adjudication, she changed her plea from not guilty to no contest.
“She decided not to have a trial and plead directly to the court,” Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, said Monday.
East was also found guilty of two counts each of leaving the scene of a crash involving injury and leaving the scene of an accident with attended property. Two charges against her — driving without a driver’s license causing death and driving without a driver’s license causing injury — were dropped by the state.
After hearing from family and friends of both East and the crash victims Monday, Lee County Circuit Judge Thomas S. Reese addressed East before handing down his ruling.
“It was not a tragic accident. It was a crash, a crash you caused,” he said. “It was the tragic result of a criminal act.”
On Dec. 8, 2007, Staff Sgt. Daniel Beougher and his wife, Lauren, were driving to visit family in North Fort Myers when the fatal crash occurred. East, who was driving without a license, fled the scene, leaving behind the Beoughers and a passenger in her vehicle. East was taken into custody in New Jersey after a tipster told authorities she rode a public bus there.
“You killed these people. You killed this man and you almost killed his wife,” Reese said.
East received 25 years in prison for leaving the scene of a crash involving death, followed by five years of drug offender probation and 15 years for DUI manslaughter. East’s sentences run concurrent. The state was seeking the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, while the defense sought the minimum of 18.4 years.
East received five years for the DUI serious bodily injury and five years for each count of leaving the scene of a crash involving injury. She got one year for the DUI with damage and 60 days for each count of leaving the scene of an accident with attended property.
Reese ruled that East must pay more than $58,000 in restitution to Lauren Beougher for medical expenses and more than $11,000 to Daniel Beougher’s brother to cover the costs of the memorial. She will also never be eligible for a driver’s license in Florida again.
“You will never operate a motor vehicle in the state of Florida,” he said.
Before Reese delivered his sentence, members from both sides spoke before the court, including East. She apologized for her actions that led to the crash and begged for Beougher’s family to forgive her. East attends the jail church services regularly, she said, and has nightmares about the crash.
“He was a great man and I am so, so terribly sorry that I have hurt the people I have hurt,” East said. “I am ready to take full responsibility.”
At one point, she said she did not know there was another vehicle carrying people involved in the crash. If she had known, she would have stayed at the crash site, East said.
“I’m not that cold, heartless person,” she said in tears.
Lauren Beougher also spoke Monday through her tears. She talked about how she waited a year and a half for Daniel Beougher to return from Iraq, his third tour. The two were a month away from saying their vows at the “dream wedding” they had yet to experience when the accident occurred.
“My wedding dress now sits in my closet and I am reminded every day that he is gone,” she said. “The injuries that I have and the scars that cover my body remind me every day that you have taken him from me.
“He would have lived to do amazing things,” Beougher said, adding that they shared dreams and Daniel had dreams of his own. “You robbed him of them.”
“I will never be able to forgive you,” she said to East.
East’s mother and brother spoke about East’s troubled childhood at the hands of her father, an alcoholic, abusive Vietnam veteran. They said East faced physical and verbal abuse, witnessed domestic violence while growing up and “struggled a lot in life to find her place.”
“To say how sorry we are doesn’t even touch on it,” East’s mother said. “I cry every day for the loss of Mrs. Beougher’s son, but this was an accident.”
Multiple family members and friends of the Beoughers filled the courtroom Monday. Along with Lauren, two of Daniel’s brothers spoke — he was the youngest of four — along with a cousin and friend. After Reese handed down East’s sentence, they shared their thoughts on the ruling.
“We believe that in this case the judge was correct,” Anthony Beougher said, adding that the crash was the result of East’s actions and not an accident. “I thought he summed it up pretty well.”
He said the family is “satisfied with the sentence,” and he is “glad to see it come to an end.” Anthony Beougher added that East is now forced to live with the results of her actions.
“And now we have to bear the burden,” he said.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Draves, Daniel Beougher’s best friend, explained that his emotions were mixed Monday. He said one half of him wanted East to get the maximum sentence of 30 years.
“But the other half wants to forgive,” Draves said.