HARTFORD — The driver and only survivor in a crash that killed three teens won’t see prison after pleading guilty to three misdemeanors.
Christopher Vega of Plainville was sentenced to two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service on Friday in Hartford Superior Court. He was 19 at the time of the 2018 crash that killed Taahir “Ty” Harris, 18, of Southington, Moses Negron, 17, of New Britain and Kerion Rogers, 19, of Bristol.
Vega was the designated driver for a trip the four friends made to a party at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Driving back the morning after a night of partying, Vega fell asleep at the wheel, drifted across three lanes of Interstate 91 and hit a tree.
According to State Police, Vega's Lexus sedan broke in two upon hitting the tree. One portion of the car came to rest nearly 200 feet from the tree.
Family and friends of Harris, Negron and Rogers filled the courtroom for the sentencing. Deborah Garner, mother of Harris and a Southington resident, left the courtroom before Judge Sheila Prats announced the sentence.
“I knew this was going to happen,” she said concerning the lack of jail time.
“I wish I had more confidence in the outcome for this person,” Garner said of Vega. “We wish him the best.”
According to investigators who tested Vega’s blood, he did not consume alcohol or drugs. The group had stopped at a rest area for a nap earlier that morning and then got on the road again.
Vega’s attorney Kevin Joiner said his client was the designated driver and was looking to take care of his friends. Vega only misjudged how tired he was, according to Joiner.
“Christopher was doing what he thought was responsible,” Joiner said. “Christopher was resolved to do the right thing.”
"Christopher was doing what he thought was responsible. Christopher was resolved to do the right thing."
-Attorney Kevin Joiner
In his statement to the court, Vega said he’d accepted the possibility that he’d go to prison. He said he was sorry about the death of Harris, Negron and Rogers, deaths that were “like a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”
“I’m truly sorry about making the decision to get back on the road after resting for what I thought was enough time,” Vega said. “I thought I was doing the responsible thing, pulling off the road to sleep.”
‘I don’t hate you’
Sonya Harris, Ty Harris’ sister, said she’ll continue to remember her brother. She ended her statement by speaking directly to Vega.
“I don’t hate you,” she said.
Sonya Harris went over to Vega, offering her hand which Vega took to shake.
“Do great things,” she told him. Vega covered his face with his hands, crying.
Vega pleaded guilty to the three misdemeanors, charges that had been reduced from three felonies as part of a plea deal which capped his potential jail time at no more than 6 months.
"I don’t know what’s right but I know one thing, he killed three people. There has to be accountability."
Al Harris Sr., Ty Harris’ uncle, said he wanted the sentence to be “a little more substantial.”
Garner said there was no way to restore her son’s life even with a strict sentence.
“I don’t know what’s right but I know one thing, he killed three people,” Garner said. “There has to be accountability.”
Feeling guilty for living
Romonda Rogers, Kerion Rogers’ mother, said she’d imagined herself at her son’s wedding or the birth of her grandchildren. Instead she was giving a victim impact statement in court.
A button featuring a photo of Ty Harris, a Southington High School graduate. Harris was killed in an early morning crash in January 2018. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
“I never thought I’d be here,” she said. “My family is destroyed.”
Rogers started a scholarship in her son’s name and hopes to also open a dance studio honoring his love of dance. She sleeps with his blanket and struggles with wondering why he died.
“I feel guilty for living,” Rogers said.
New penalties don’t apply
Vega pleaded guilty to three charges of negligent homicide, misdemeanors at the time of his arrest but which the General Assembly has since increased to felonies.
"I believe his loss is real. I don’t think sending Mr. Vega to jail will have any deterrent value."
-Judge Sheila Prats
Prats said Vega only faces the penalties that existed at the time of his arrest.
She said Vega didn’t have so much as a prior traffic ticket and had exhibited remorse for the accident.
“I believe his loss is real,” Prats said. “I don’t think sending Mr. Vega to jail will have any deterrent value.”
Prats challenged Vega to “prove himself.”
“I hope your shoulders are big enough to carry the burden you have,” she told him. “Live a good life, be a good father. Do what these children couldn’t do and honor their lives.”