Tuesday October 5, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Following a long and, at times, emotional hearing in Berkshire Superior Court on Monday, a 48-year-old Connecticut woman with no previous criminal record received a steep state prison sentence for her part in a fatal drunken driving accident in Sandisfield 18 months ago.

Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini ordered Pamela N. Balsamo of Barkhamsted to serve six to 10 years in state prison for one count of motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and operating to endanger. She pleaded guilty to the charges in Superior Court last week, and her sentencing was scheduled on Monday.

According to Assistant District Attorney Robert W. KInzer III, Balsamo will have to serve at least six years before she is eligible for parole.

Balsamo also pleaded guilty to a pair of civil infractions -- speeding and a marked lanes violation, which were placed on file.

Balsamo was drunk when her 2002 Mercedes collided head-on with a 2008 Honda Fit on Route 8 in Sandisfield near the Connecticut state line on March 18, 2009. The Honda's driver, 29-year-old Erin Dufour of Tolland, was killed.

Balsamo was driving south on Route 8, and her car drifted into the northbound lane. Dufour was driving in the northbound lane.

Following numerous victim-witness statements from family and friends of both the victim and the defendant, Agostini said his sentence was focused on "the actions" that caused the accident to occur.


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"I believe that the defendant is not a monster," he said. "And I've seen monsters. The defendant made a terrible decision."

Kinzer had asked the court to sentence Balsamo to seven to nine years in state prison. Noting that his request was higher than the sentencing guidelines allowed, Kinzer noted that Balsamo's blood/alcohol level was twice the legal limit of 0.08 after the crash, and a video showed her drinking six shots of vodka prior to the accident. Skidmarks at the scene revealed that she had been traveling 72 miles per hour, he said.

"If we're going to be vigilant in preventing cases like this, then we must be vigilant in prosecuting cases like this," Kinzer said.

Balsamo's attorney, Samuel B. Goldberg of Cambridge, asked the court to sentence the defendant to either a year in jail or 2 1/2 years in state prison.

"While I understand the district attorney's recommendation for tougher laws, I suggest this is not the forum to do that," Goldberg said. "This isn't a person with a history of drunken driving. She made a mistake."

Friends and family members remembered Dufour as a good friend who loved life, and that her death had created a void that will never be replaced. Her father, John Dufour of Lakeville, Conn., presented a photo album of his daughter to Agostini.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for 8 1/2 years," he said, referring to the prosecution's sentencing recommendation. "It's a very small price to pay for what Erin lost."

The Dufour family declined to speak to the media after the sentence was announced.

Balsamo's supporters described her as a good, kind person who rarely drank. They said she had experienced several personal tragedies, but had also assisted law enforcement authorities in investigating the murders of two close friends.

Goldberg said one of Balsamo's children had been struck by a drunk driver, while at the time of the accident her son had threatened to shoot his girlfriend and his girlfrlend's attorney.

Balsamo did not address the court, but in a written statement read aloud by her attorney she apologized to Dufour's family, and said she had been "haunted by this tragedy" ever since.

"I only hope that some day, you will find it in your hearts to forgive me," Balsamo said in her statement.