The young Ohio man whose remorseful video claim of responsiblity for a fatal drunk-driving accident has gone viral on YouTube was sentenced Wednesday to 6-1/2 years behind bars.
Matthew Cordle, 22, stood passively and attentively as gravel-voiced Judge David Fais sent him to jail after replaying in court the emotional video confession that has now been seen online more than 2.3 million times.
“It should have been me (who died) that night, instead of an innocent man,” said Cordle, who had earlier pleaded guilty, as he publicly apologized to the family of the victim, Vincent Canzani, 61.
“The true punishment is simply living — living with the knowledge that I took an innocent life. That pain and weight will never go away,” he told the court, dressed in a green prison T-shirt and flanked by his lawyers.
Cordle had been out drinking with friends when his vehicle veered into the opposite lane of an Interstate highway near Columbus, Ohio, in the pre-dawn hours of June 22 and slammed head-on into Canzani’s car.
In September, with the help of BecauseISaidIWould.com, a website for people going public with promises, Cordle posted on YouTube a somber 3-1/2 minute video in which he took responsibility for Canzani’s death and urged others not to repeat his tragic mistake.
“I’m begging you, please don’t drink and drive,” he said. “I can’t bring Mr. Canzani back … but you can still be saved. You victims can still be saved.”
Canzani, 61, a US Navy veteran was described in his obituary as “a gifted photographer” who attended art school in Ohio. He had two daughters and five grandchildren, and died at the scene of the crash.
Under Ohio law, Cordle could have been jailed for a maximum eight years for aggravated vehicular homicide.
But judge Fais opted for a six-year sentence, plus six months for drunk driving, a $1,075 fine and court costs.
Cordle will also lose driving privileges for life and undergo three years of parole-board supervision following release from prison.
His father Dave Cordle told the court: “I believe my son’s mission in life will be to spread and share this tragic experience with as many as possible.”
He added: “If Matt can spare just one victim like Vincent, then Matt truly knows his time incarcerated will have been beneficial.”
But Canzani’s daughter Angela Canzani , laying bare her anger as she took the witness stand, struggled to contain her grief but never touched the box of tissues provided for wiping away tears.
“I hope Matthew Cordle does raise awareness and does it sincerely by going to schools et cetera, not publicly,” she said in an apparent swipe at his YouTube mea culpa.
“My father got a death sentence and did nothing wrong… After (release from prison) Matthew Cordle will still have his whole life ahead of him. My dad is never coming back.”
Fais said that, prior to taking on the case, he had never heard of YouTube and that he initially thought the name referred to a medical procedure, not the Internet’s leading video website.
“Some people have thought that the video …. was more about Mr Cordle than the victim,” the judge said. “I don’t think so.”
In his court, Fais said substance abuse was involved in 65 percent of criminal cases in which the accused pleaded guilty.
“I firmly believe that alcohol and drugs are almost an epidemic in this society… This is a very serious matter — a very serious matter — because it concerns all of society,” he said.
Every day in the United States, almost 30 people die in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, amounting to one death every 48 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a US government agency.
It put the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes at more than $51 billion and the total number of drunk-driving fatalities in 2010 at 10,228 — about a third of all traffic deaths.