Michael Plemons of Doylestown was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison and had his driver's license suspended for 10 years for a hit-skip collision that left a Springfield Township police officer with incapacitating spinal and leg injuries.
The prison sentence was the maximum he could receive under Ohio law for his two felony convictions.
Thursday's hourlong hearing was emotionally charged from start to finish.
Plemons, who broke down and began sobbing when his mother addressed the court, saying he was "not a monster," spoke eloquently at times about his haunting experiences as an Iraqi war veteran.
"When I joined the service," Plemons said, his voice beginning to crack, "I took an oath to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I never thought I would be the enemy."
On the night of March 31, after drinking at several nightspots, Plemons was driving a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado when the heavy-duty pickup struck Officer Mark Dodez in the northbound lane of South Arlington Road in Springfield Township.
Plemons, who was driving in the southbound lane with his driver-side headlight out, crossed over the yellow center line while Dodez and another Springfield officer were heading back to their cruisers after looking for suspected contraband thrown from another vehicle.
The force of the collision was such that it propelled Dodez past the other officer, Tom Hinerman, who put out an immediate call for help.
Severe injuries to the spine have left Dodez, a married father with two girls, ages 3 and 5, with only slight movement in his legs.
Sitting before the bench Thursday in a wheelchair, with his wife, Lisa, by his side, Dodez turned to his right toward Plemons and said: "What happened sucks, but I'm not vindictive and I'm not angry with you.
"I've said all along, the justice system has a job to do, and that's what they're going to do," Dodez said. "I have full faith in whatever the sentence is."
He went on to say, in a calm, even voice, never once breaking down, that he hopes Plemons, 35, can get the help he needs in prison to rehabilitate his life when he gets out.
"I'm afraid you might have a drinking problem, which is obvious from your driving record. And I hope you can get that taken care of to better yourself for your family," Dodez said in conclusion.
The arrest of Plemons only minutes after the collision, when he doubled back and stopped his pickup in the northbound lane of Arlington near the two officers' cruisers, was his fourth DUI apprehension, according to police and prosecution records.
Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Gregory Peacock said Plemons had prior DUI convictions in 2002 in Wayne County, followed by two in Akron in 2005.
Plemons opened and closed his remarks by apologizing to Dodez and his family, saying he was "profusely" sorry for what happened that night.
He told the court his war experiences left him so mentally scarred, that he "resorted to drinking to try to forget the things I've seen and done."
Four Cleveland television crews were in the courtroom, and the 12-seat jury box was filled with Springfield law enforcement officers in full uniform.
Springfield police Chief John Smith was in court in his dress white uniform shirt, dark pants and sidearm. He said afterward if anyone can recover from such life-changing circumstances, it is Dodez, now 33. "You can't teach the attitude and personality he has," Smith said.
Dodez's mother, Barb, turned to the Springfield officers at the end of her remarks to express her gratitude, telling them: "I've never met a more caring, loving group of people than you sitting here. I love you all."
Spectators in the gallery cried openly as she left the podium and took her seat.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh and other members of her staff were there for the entire hearing.
Walsh also was in court Tuesday afternoon, meeting with Dodez family members and preparing them for the most difficult portion of the trial: the hourlong testimony Dodez delivered from his wheelchair in the front of the courtroom.
Just prior to being led away in wrist and leg shackles by sheriff's deputies, Plemons vowed he would learn from his mistakes and never again set foot in a courtroom.
"I know the officer says he has forgiven me," Plemons said, "but I will never forgive myself."
A Summit County jury convicted Plemons of aggravated vehicular assault and all other serious charges in his indictment after only 90 minutes of deliberations Wednesday night.
Copyright 2011 - The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service