Mitchell A. Gayer sniffled and hunched around a small microphone as he told a packed Rock Island County courtroom Monday about the guilt he felt for his role in a fatal crash that left his two friends dead in 2013.
“This is a life sentence of guilt I live with every day,” the 27-year-old Andalusia man said of the deaths of Jamie Sedam and Clayton Carver. “There is not a prison sentence, letter, hope or anything I can say that can fix this mistake.
“I wish there was something I could do to bring them both back to all of us.”
During a lengthy sentencing hearing Monday, Judge Richard Zimmer sentenced Gayer to eight years in prison in the deaths of Sedam, 22, of Port Byron, and Carver, 24, of Taylor Ridge. He must serve 85 percent of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
He was given credit for 214 days he already served in the Rock Island County Jail. Once he completes his prison sentence, Gayer must serve two years of mandatory supervised release.
Zimmer ordered Gayer, who has been free on bond since January, to immediately be taken into custody. Gayer hugged family members before deputies led him out of the courtroom.
Gayer entered an Alford plea in late January to one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, a Class 2 felony. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but agrees the prosecution likely could prove the charge at trial.
According to Rock Island County Sheriff’s deputies, Gayer lost control of his 1999 Chevrolet S10 on a curve on 51st Street West near Milan and swerved off the road and into a ditch and hit a tree on Nov. 27, 2013.
Gayer himself sustained serious injuries and was in a coma for two weeks.
According to prior court testimony, Gayer had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.146, nearly twice the legal limit to drive.
Gayer has maintained that he has no memory of the crash itself or the events leading up to it.
In January 2015, he entered an Alford plea to one count of aggravated driving under the influence and was sentenced in May 2015 to 18 years in prison.
He later filed a motion to take back the plea and argued that his former attorney, William Schick, was ineffective.
On Dec. 30, 2015, Associate Judge Thomas Berglund granted his request to take back his plea and vacated his prison sentence.
For nearly 17 minutes Monday, Gayer addressed the judge, the families of Sedam and Carver, and his own family.
He talked about Sedam’s “deep blue eyes” and that she was the first woman he ever loved. He said Carver was like a brother to him.
Gayer said he wished he had died that night, instead of them.
"I wake up, I think about them,” he said. “I go to work and think about them. I sleep, I dream about them."
Gayer vowed that he will continue to work toward paying restitution to the families.
Sedam’s aunt, Vickie Sedam, said she had empathy for all the families, including Gayer’s, because “every one of you made a really bad decision that day.”
“I wish you chose not to get behind the wheel and drive," she said. “I wish Jamie and Clayton would have chosen not to get into the truck … but you guys did.”
Vickie Sedam said she hoped Gayer would accept responsibility for his role in the crash.
“Jamie and Clayton did, because they paid with their lives,” she said.
Rock Island County State’s Attorney John McGehee also submitted the transcripts of prior victim impact statements from family members, including Sedam’s mother, Tracey O’Hara, during the hearing.
He asked Zimmer to hand down a 14-year sentence, saying that it was reasonable, necessary and proper in the case.
He argued that Gayer had a responsibility to his passengers that night when he chose to get behind the wheel of his truck.
“Life is about choices, and sometimes one bad decision can change your life forever," McGehee said. “But, he was put on notice for this, everybody is put on notice for this, that if you drink and drive, your reaction time is not as good and you can cause serious, serious injury and, in this case, death.”
Gayer’s attorney, Katherine Drummond, argued for a shorter sentence, citing his lack of criminal history and compliance with the terms of his pretrial release.
She said that her client suffered a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from the crash and was “crippled with grief and depression” over the deaths of his friends.
Zimmer said the crash was preventable.
“This is a case where deterrence is an important factor here,” he said. “I understand and completely believe Mr. Gayer’s total remorse. I believe Mr. Gayer would absolutely change things if he absolutely could … but there does have to be punishment.”