South Milwaukee man sentenced to 7 years for fatal drowsy driving crash

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jun 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-23 13:07:58-04

The man who pleaded guilty to crashing into two cyclists was sentenced to seven years in prison after he admitted to police he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into Tony Oliver and Paul Brown.

Brett Hartley, now 22, told police he hadn't slept for 24 hours and had been drinking at a party, although he wasn't 21 at the time. Brown died at the scene and Oliver was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

It was an emotional courtroom Thursday with three families devastated by one incident on June 6, 2015. The wives of Oliver and Brown had a moment to speak to Hartley, stressing they will forgive him for what happened.

"Paul and Tony were passionate and compassionate human beings," said Ronelle Brown. "Please honor them by only showing love to everyone involved and to one another."

"Brett, I just want to tell you, my daughters and I forgive you," said Laetitia Oliver. "I will pray for you wherever you go and I will always keep you in my mind."

After the attorneys spoke, arguing for what kind of sentence should be handed down, Hartley had the chance to address the family one more time.

"I understand the rest of my life, I'll be able to experience birthdays, anniversaries, retirement with my loved ones and they will not," Hartley said. "There's sorry, it's just not enough. I wish there was better words to describe how deeply torn I am that this happened. I can only imagine how you guys feel. The incredible pain that I brought to all of us and I understand these words can't give comfort right now but I truly mean this. I am so, so sorry."

Hartley fought through tears during his speech, pausing several times to catch his breath and wipe his tears. The sincerity of his words hit home with both the families and the judge.

However, Judge Lloyd V. Carter had to make a decision. He understood this was a mistake by Hartley and he was a young man but he would not accept this was just a case of simply "drowsy driving" as Hartley's blood alcohol level was .052 after the crash.

"You were not old enough to consume alcohol at all," Carter said. "Your alcohol level had to be greater than .052 at the time of the collision. You shouldn't have been drinking. You shouldn't have been driving. Decisions you made that you had control over. The Brown family can't move on. The Oliver family can't move on. Mr. Hartley, it will be hard for your family to move on. You're here today. You're alive. Mr. Brown and Mr. Oliver are not. They don't have the opportunity to do anything. Their lives ended because of the decision you made."

After sentencing Hartley to seven years in prison, he was taken out in handcuffs and again said sorry to the courtroom as he left. Hartley's family was clearly distraught, knowing he will be away from them until he's 29 years old. However, his father took the time to hug both Mrs. Oliver and Mrs. Brown before leaving the courtroom.

"He said sorry," Brown said. "And I said I'm sorry for your loss."

Hartley's father declined an interview.

For the Olivers and Browns, this begins the next chapter of their grieving. Their significant others will be gone forever, but they say they believe Hartley is remorseful and genuine.

"I do not wish him any harm," Brown said. "I will pray for his safety in prison. I accept his apology and I believe him to be sincere and I'm deeply sorry for the hurt this has caused his family too."

"I truly forgive him," Oliver said. “It still hurts but we have to move on."

Both women hope their tragedy will not fall on deaf ears. They hope the public will see that underage drinking and driving is a serious problem so their husbands deaths aren't in vain.