Drunk driver sentenced in death of best friend - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Drunk driver sentenced in death of best friend


Chippewa Falls (WQOW) - The man charged in the drunk driving death of his best friend and injuring two others received his sentence in Chippewa County court Wednesday.

James Heath was the driver in the June 2010 accident that happened hours before a wedding in which he and his best friend Shawn Sillman of Eau Claire were set to be groomsmen.

"All of the sudden you see a big flash, this car in front of us.  It was just like the snap of a finger," says victim Lance Girard

That's the moment when James Heath's car hit a car in the opposite lane, killing his best friend and critically injuring the people in the other car.

"The pain that I went through and I wish that I could have just blacked out and not known what had happened," says Girard.

"My life has changed dramatically.  I'm not the same person I used to be," says James Heath.

It was up to the judge to weigh those words and those of the victims before sentencing.

"I need you to have a break in your life where you deal with this issue and realize the enormity of what you have done," says Judge Steven Cray.

"He lost his best friend because of something that he did.  He will suffer that memory, that consequence, that turmoil everyday," says Heath's attorney, Michael Cohen.

"I've learned from my mistakes.  I'm going to accept whatever consequence that I have coming and I will come out the other side a better person," says Heath.

The judge decided those consequences are to be two years in jail and no driver's license for five years.

"I truly think that's a slap on the wrist, in my opinion.  For what he had done to not just me and my family," says Girard.

Investigators say Heath was intoxicated and had morphine in his system when the crash happened.

"He lost his best friend and that's something that he can never bring back," says Cohen.

Heath will serve the first four months of his sentence without the possibility of work release and must report to jail Wednesday, January 23rd.

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