Amanda Griffiths still remembers when her son Dana came to see her while riding his motorcycle around the area, enjoying his day off and visiting family.
“I’m blessed that I got to see my my baby boy,” she said. “I got a very big hug, not knowing it would be the last hug.”
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Griffiths was speaking in a Portage County Court of Common Pleas courtroom Monday during the sentencing for Jermaine D. McGee Jr., the man responsible for her son’s death in a crash that day on July 5, 2021.
McGee tested positive for marijuana following the crash, according to court records.
“I believe if he wasn’t impaired, he would have made a better choice,” she said
Judge Laurie Pittman sentenced McGee to four to six years in prison. The maximum he could have gotten was eight to 12 years plus 180 days. She also suspended his driving privileges for life.
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Streetsboro police said they responded after receiving a call for the crash in the area where Interstate 480 and state Route 14 meet at about 11:30 p.m. McGee, now 26, of Cincinnati, made an illegal U-turn while eastbound in a Honda Civic and into the path of a westbound motorcycle ridden by Dana A. Griffiths, 22.
Griffiths, who police said was wearing a helmet, collided with the car.
A helicopter flew Griffiths to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, where he died the next day.Griffiths was the father of two boys, ages 3 and 1.
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McGee was not injured.
McGee pleaded guilty in September to second-degree felony aggravated vehicular assault and operating a vehicle under the influence.
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Prosecutor Eric Finnegan and family members who spoke during the hearing requested the maximum sentence.
“I do not think eight years is fair,” said Madison Necas, Griffiths’ fiancee and the mother of Griffiths’ younger son.
Pittman said she took into account a number of factors in deciding the sentence, including the fact that McGee pleaded guilty, sparing the family a trial, and his lack of a prior criminal record.
She said she also considered videos McGee posted on social media in the immediate aftermath of the crash that Griffiths’ loved ones and Finnegan said they thought showed a lack of remorse because they focused on McGee and his lack of injuries. Pittman was critical of these videos and asked McGee why he posted them.
“I didn’t know it was as serious as it was,” he replied. “I didn’t realize his life was on the line.”
‘Dana was my soul’
Amanda Griffiths said Dana was the youngest of her three children.
“Dana was a beautiful soul on this earth,” she said. “He knew compassion and dignity. He was very empathetic and he had a lovely personalty. He was easy to love. He never asked for much ever. Easiest kid to raise. He was a peacemaker. He could make friends with almost anyone.”
She spoke of the pain when her son was taken off the ventilator and died and the arrangements to have his organs donated, something he wanted.
“He had many family and friends come to the hospital to say their goodbyes,” she said.
Brenda Tawney, Griffiths’ grandmother said she wanted to teach McGee a few things.
“I want to introduce a few words to his vocabulary: Patience. Selflessness. Deprivation,” she said.
She said McGee could have turned around at a nearby gas station.
“You wouldn’t be sitting here,” she said. “We wouldn’t be dealing with this. We’d still have our beloved Dana.”
Tawney said things might have been different if McGee had thought about other people, including who might be coming from the opposite direction.
“Try thinking of others before taking impulsive actions,” said Tawney.
Necas said that night, Griffiths left home to go recover his cell phone, which had fallen off his motorcycle while he was riding earlier.
“Dana’s last words to me were, ‘I love you’ and ‘I’ll be right back.’ But he never came back,” she said.
Griffiths had located the phone with GPS only minutes away from home. About an hour later, a neighbor offered to drive her to the phone’s location after finding her outside worrying that he still hadn’t come home. They came upon the crash scene.
“When I saw his bike, it seemed like my heart stopped and was going a million miles all at once,” she said.
She remembers when she heard at the hospital the words “unsurvivable brain injury.”
“When I heard them, my world stopped and it hasn’t started spinning since,” Necas said. “He wasn’t just my fiance and the father of my son, he was my lifetime best friend. Dana was my soul.”
Necas said that as difficult as the loss is to her, at least she has memories of him.
“Our son, however, has to live his entire life not knowing what it’s like to be hugged by his dad,” she said. “He’s not going to remember how his daddy’s face lit up every time he saw him,” said Necas.
In a written statement read in court, Nicole Griffiths, Dana’s older sister, wrote about the close bond she had always shared with him from his birth and that they were confidantes, “knowing each other’s secrets.”
“From the moment Dana was brought home, we grew attached at the hip,” she wrote.
She said he was hardworking and could always be counted on to help, whether family, friends or neighbors, such as the time a large tree fell on her house.
“He was the first person to show up and the first person to get on the roof and get to work,” she said.
The day he died, he had visited her and took her on a motorcycle ride because he knew she was in “a slump” and he wanted to help her feel better.
“Little did I know his life would be taken extremely too soon,” she said.
She said when she got the call that her brother had been in a crash, at first she told herself that he would survive because he was “tough” and “strong willed.” Then when she got a second call that she needed to get to the hospital in Cleveland, she spent the drive praying and pleading for her brother’s life.
“Losing my brother changed my life. It took a huge toll on me,” she said. “Jermaine didn’t just end the life of one person. He shattered the life of tons of people who loved my brother.”
McGee to victim’s family: ‘I’m terribly sorry for your loss’
McGee, speaking after Griffiths’ family members, apologized to them in a written statement that he read.
“I’m terribly sorry for your loss, grief and pain,” he said. “My heart and soul aches, not only for the young man’s life, but for his family.”
He said he often questions why it was not him that died in the crash, especially since Griffiths had children.
“I hope the family can find peace and can one day forgive me,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
McGee, who had been facing Pittman, with his back to Griffiths’ family in the gallery, finished by apologizing again.
“I want you to face the family and tell them that,” said Pittman.
Turning around, McGee said, “I am so very sorry.”
Paul Siegferth, an attorney filling in for McGee’s attorney during the sentencing, said that McGee cooperated with the investigation and turned himself in when he learned there was a warrant for his arrest. He said McGee had “zero criminal history” prior to the crash and he had been a “productive member of society” with a full-time job.
“There was no malice that night. This was an accident,” said Siegferth. “That night, he had just finished a 10-hour drive. He made a decision, he made several decisions, that came to a fatal accident.”
As part of a plea deal, additional charges in a grand jury indictment and a supplemental indictment were dismissed, including first-degree felony aggravated vehicular homicide, a second OVI charge, first-degree misdemeanor driving under suspension, and minor misdemeanor failure to yield right of way.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at [email protected].