A Somerset County man who admitted his blood alcohol content was over double the legal limit when he drove from a New York Jets game drunk, crashing into a Jeep in Morristown and killing its passenger days before Christmas 2021, has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Phillip H. Walker II, 36, who grew up in Bernardsville, will serve roughly five years before he is eligible for parole release, a state Superior Court judge ruled Monday in Morris County. Walker pleaded guilty in November, in a heavily negotiated deal with prosecutors, to vehicular homicide and assault by auto after admitting that on Dec. 5, 2021, while driving on Route 287 home from the football game, his Porsche Cayenne veered into a Jeep Cherokee, killing Diana Yannotti, 88, of Warren in Somerset County. He also admitted to a weapons offense after police found a 9mm handgun with hollow point bullets and high-capacity magazines in the car's trunk.
Yannotti, a longtime nurse from Irvington and mother of the township's now-retired acting police chief, Stephen, died at Morristown Medical Center on Dec. 21, 2022, due to injuries she suffered to her face, chest and head in the crash, prosecutors said.
Walker's attorney Michael Robertson, who served as Somerset County's top prosecutor before resigning in early 2022 to join the law firm O'Toole Scrivo as a partner, sought a sentence that would have downgraded the charge to a third-degree death by auto. Robertson argued that a "significant" three-year sentence was more than appropriate and in the interest of justice, saying his client is "not a bad person," but rather someone who made a "horrific" decision.
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Kelly Sandler, a Morris assistant prosecutor, contended that simply being a good person does not necessarily mean that a defendant should not be sentenced within the criminal guidelines. She also raised concerns that Walker has a risk of reoffending because of his self-admissions of a substance abuse issue - a struggle that will face him for life, not just in the days or weeks ahead, and a risk he may get behind the wheel of a car and drive drunk again, she argued. He and the general public need a deterrence from such conduct, she added.
Judge Stephen Taylor agreed that while it appeared Walker may be a "good person who made an awful decision to drive," he could not disregard the severity of the crime. There was nothing idiosyncratic about Walker or the offense that would have made it appropriate to downgrade the charge or lower the recommended six-year prison offer, he added.
"Every driver, including Mr. Walker, is aware when sober of the responsibility never to drive intoxicated," Taylor said. "Unfortunately, Mr. Walker ignored that fact and did become intoxicated. Highly intoxicated ... more than twice" the legal limit.
Walker was also sentenced to three years in prison for the aggravated assault charge and a one-year term on the weapons charge, but both will run at the same time as the vehicular homicide sentence.
Police responded to the 5 p.m. crash on the southbound lanes of Route 287 and found the 2006 Jeep down a center embankment and a Porsche on the shoulder with heavy front-end damage. Walker, who was not injured, told police he had "hit something but did not know what," and he had alcohol emanating from his breath and bloodshot, droopy and watery eyes, records show. He refused chemical breath tests, and a judge had to authorize a blood draw, prosecutors said.
Walker had upward of 20 members of the community attend to support him, including his sister and Peter Roselle, a pastor at King of Kings Worship Center in Basking Ridge, who each spoke on his behalf. Walker also spoke.
Yannotti's son and daughter-in-law, Rose, and two other supporters attended, with Stephen Yannotti offering his own comments. Rose Yannotti was driving the Jeep at the time of the crash and was seriously injured as a result, police said.
This story will be updated.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Morristown NJ fatal crash: Drunken driver sentenced to prison
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