YONKERS – Rhonda Richardson has spent the last eight months trying to manage the overwhelming sadness she's felt since losing her only daughter, the victim of a drunk-driving crash.
There are happy moments, such as texts from her granddaughter and daily visits from her son, who lives upstairs. But there's also confusion and frustration, most recently after the man responsible for Kelly Williams' death pleaded guilty last month to felony vehicular manslaughter.
Richardson didn't want a plea bargain for William Watkins-Gomes, who agreed to serve 1 / to 4 years after admitting he was intoxicated during the Aug. 4 crash in Mount Vernon that killed her daughter, a passenger in the car. He had faced up to seven years in prison.
"Even if he got six years in the state penitentiary, that would have been fine with me," Richardson, 63, said from the living room of her Sherwood Avenue home. "I'm not comfortable with what the sentence was. My daughter's not coming back. She was my best friend. She was also my baby."
Richardson's dissatisfaction with the justice system is something other victims' families have encountered before — a process they can't dictate. Her family wanted a trial for Watkins-Gomes, who they have described as a friend of Williams, but the reality is the vast majority of criminal cases in New York state don't make it that far. And it's up to the defendant to plead guilty or have a trial.
A deal for Watkins-Gomes, 28, was reached after negotiations between his attorney and the Westchester County District Attorney's Office, with a judge serving as the arbiter.
If the case had gone to trial, there was a chance the Yonkers man could have walked free or received probation. He could have also received a longer sentence. The plea agreement fell in the middle of those scenarios.
"There were extensive and numerous conversations face-to-face ... with the (Richardson) family," said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office. "They were fully apprised of what was happening, but also what various other outcomes could be."
Watkins-Gomes has been locked up since last summer, and will receive credit for time served, meaning he's approaching the minimum sentence, according to his attorney. That's upsetting to the Richardsons, especially since they say Watkins-Gomes hasn't shown remorse or apologized to them for killing 31-year-old Williams, who was a supervisor for an organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
His attorney, Pat Bonanno, said his client was sorry for what happened to a woman he was romantically involved with. He added that mitigating factors, such as Williams not wearing a seat belt, would have surfaced if the case had gone to trial.
"It's a tragedy all around," Bonanno said. "He's truly remorseful that this resulted in a loss of life."