SARATOGA COUNTY, N.Y. – "I haven't seen a case like this in my 25 years in this office.”
To Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy, it was clear almost instantly that the impact of the Dec. 1 Northway crash stretched well beyond the families of the four young victims.
"This case has changed a community, changed a county; it's bigger than just the Shen community, certainly," Murphy said Monday.
In the days following, thousands attended a vigil on the Shenendehowa campus where victims Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers attended school. Many more took to social media to express their grief.
Ten months later, the internet is once again offering a platform for community-wide disbelief.
"I've never seen a petition go this quickly before, we have had some smaller petitions on things like this, but never to this degree," Murphy said.
Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a harsher prison sentence for Dennis Drue, the 23-year-old man who in September pleaded guilty to using alcohol and marijuana before causing the fatal crash.
While the posts, often emotional, all call for more than the five to 15 year sentence the judge and Drue's lawyer agreed to, Murphy says that's unlikely to happen.
"We don't necessarily have to like that sentence, the family doesn't have to like the sentence and I suspect they don't but that is what the sentence is going to be," said Murphy, who added that because Drue pleaded to all counts, it’s the equivalent of a “guilty” verdict at trial.
According to Murphy, if Judge Jerry Scarano were to decide Drue is deserving of a longer prison stay, the plea agreement would be thrown out and Drue would then have a right to a full trial. With that scenario highly unlikely, it's nearly certain he'll received the agreed upon sentence in December.
"We intend to say we don't necessarily like it but I know the families are grateful they're not sitting through a three-month trial right now," Murphy said.
Had he been convicted of all counts at trial, Drue would've faced a max sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Ballston Spa.