Driver pleads guilty in crash that killed Salem officer

  • In US
  • 2022-09-27 23:13:00Z
  • By Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

Sep. 27-NEWBURYPORT - A Salem man pleaded guilty Tuesday to vehicular homicide and other charges in the 2020 death of an off-duty Salem police officer.

Juan Marinez, 27, was sentenced to serve one year of a 2 1/2 -year jail term, to be followed by six months of home confinement and five years of probation.

During a hearing Tuesday in Newburyport District Court, Marinez acknowledged that he was traveling more than twice the speed limit, at 55 mph, in the second before the crash that killed Dana Mazola, 56, of Salem, on June 25, 2020.

The two men were traveling in opposite directions on Jefferson Avenue in Salem just after 11 p.m., prosecutor Haleigh Reisman said. It took months, and evidence from the event data recorders of Marinez's Ford Fusion and Mazola's Toyota Corolla, to determine just what had happened.

Marinez had been driving southbound when he veered into the northbound lane, where Mazola was driving, just a few miles over the speed limit. Marinez attempted to correct at the last second but it was too late, the prosecutor said.

The district attorney's office had requested the 2 1/2 year term with a longer period in custody for Marinez, 18 months.

The crash occurred not far from the home Mazola shared with his wife, Florene.

"He died from the actions of a man who chose to drive his car in a lethal manner," Florene Mazola told Newburyport District Court Judge Allen Swan in a victim impact statement.

She and the couple's twin daughters, Amanda and Savannah, asked the judge to impose the maximum penalty for Marinez, 2 1/2 years in jail.

"We beg for accountability," Florene Mazola told the judge.

Swan heard from all three, as well as the victim's sister-in-law and niece.

"My dad was the definition of a perfect father and a real-life superhero," Savannah Mazola recalled.

It was a regular occurrence for the family to be at the mall or a supermarket and be greeted like old friends by someone they didn't know, only to learn that the person was someone Mazola had once arrested. After his death they heard hundreds of similar stories of his kindness, selflessness and caring, she told the judge.

Amanda Mazola said her father "deserved so much more ... to walk his daughters down the aisle, to meet his grandchildren, to grow old with his wife."

She prays every night that he did not suffer, that he died from the impact. "I can't bear the thought of him in pain," she told the judge.

"This was not an accident," Amanda Mazola said. "Nobody drives 30 miles an hour over the speed limit."

Florene Mazola recalled the quote from children's television host Fred Rogers to "look for the helpers. Dana was that helper." He was someone who would rather take a few moments to educate a driver on the potential outcome of his carelessness than write a ticket, she told the judge.

Behind Mazola's family, current and retired Salem police officers filled one side of the gallery.

The other side of the courtroom was filled with the family and friends of Marinez, who was injured in the crash.

The case was moved from Salem District Court to Newburyport last week after defense lawyer Michael Cerulli raised concerns about having the case before a judge who might have known Mazola and the impact of pretrial publicity on potential jurors.

But Tuesday, he told Swan that his client had already decided to plead guilty.

"He saw the evidence and he knew he did wrong," Cerulli told Swan.

Cerulli asked that the judge impose no more than six months in custody for his client, followed by house arrest, describing the impact the crash has already had on his life. He offered to have his client do 500 hours of community service.

"This was a significant error in judgment that he lives with daily," said Cerulli. He also told the judge that his client, who regularly drove that road, may have grown complacent, though he also suggested that others frequently speed on Jefferson Avenue as well. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that travels 25 miles per hour," Cerulli told the judge.

He also described how Marinez came to the United States with his family at 13, learned English, graduated from high school and became a citizen in the years before the crash.

"I would say he's made every effort to be a good citizen and do the right thing," said Cerulli, who read from letters submitted by family and co-workers. "He's a redeemable person, your honor. He does good things for the community."

After being unable to work for seven months, Cerulli said, Marinez began working at a North Andover nursing home. Because his license was immediately suspended - and will remain so for 15 more years as a result of the conviction Tuesday - he spent approximately $800 a month to get to and from work.

"I appreciate the fact that this defendant has no criminal record to speak of and I recognize the fact that he came to this country as an immigrant, worked hard, and became a U.S. citizen and a productive member of the community," said Swan. "The purpose of the criminal justice system is to provide a penalty and a form of deterrence, and some kind of rehabilitation. What this court cannot do is restore a human life. There does need to be accountability."

As part of the sentence, Swan ordered Marinez to perform 100 hours of community service at a facility that treats victims of head injuries.

He must also take part in a brain injury awareness class and a driver safety class, though he legally cannot drive for 15 years as a result of the vehicular homicide conviction.

Under the terms of the so-called "split" sentence, Marinez could be returned to jail to serve the balance of the 2 1/2 year sentence if he violates probation.

He was also found responsible for speeding and failing to stay in marked lanes, both civil infractions.

Marinez will become eligible for parole after serving six months.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis


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