GREENFIELD — In between soft sobs, Charles Goodman told the judge he’d do anything to bring Jacob Williams back.
The 54-year-old Gary man, who was found guilty last month of driving while intoxicated when he flipped a church bus and killed 6-year-old Jacob, said all he wanted to do was something positive in the young man’s memory, to make sure the little boy is never forgotten.
And, moments later, with a message of encouragement, Judge Terry Snow said he would give Goodman that chance.
Snow handed Goodman a six-year sentence Wednesday in Hancock County Superior Court 1 — half of the maximum penalty for the crime Goodman was convicted of after a two-day trial in Hancock County Superior Court 1 in June.
The sentence will be equally divided between prison and probation, Snow ordered, with Goodman serving three years in an Indiana Department of Correction facility.
A jury found Goodman guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, a Level 4 felony, and driving while suspended, an A infraction.
The defendant also had faced a Level 5 felony count of reckless homicide, but jurors decided he was not guilty of the charge.
Snow opted during the hearing Wednesday not to sentence Goodman for the infraction.
Because Goodman has been in jail for nearly a year (he was booked into the facility Aug. 3), some of the time will be factored into the sentence, Prosecutor Brent Eaton said, leaving Goodman about 18 months to spend behind bars.
The shorter sentence gives Goodman the opportunity to use his experience to educate others, Snow said.
The judge said he thinks it’s unlikely Goodman will reoffend.
“You never intended for that young man to die,” he said.
Goodman was driving a church bus with a dozen passengers on board when he veered off the roadway July 28 near the 107-mile marker on eastbound Interstate 70.
The bus struck a group of trees and flipped, injuring 11 people and killing 6-year-old Jacob, who was trapped under the overturned vehicle.
During Goodman’s trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Goodman had traces of metabolized cocaine in his blood immediately after the accident and had climbed behind the wheel despite having a suspended license.
Snow acknowledged these facts while handing down Goodman’s sentencing but said he didn’t believe the defendant acted maliciously.
“You shouldn’t have been driving at all; you can’t get away from that,” Snow said, “but I believe it is unlikely you will commit this crime again.
Goodman repeatedly denied taking cocaine in the days leading up to the accident, even saying in court during his sentencing that he never used drugs and wanted the blood sample taken by Indiana State Police officers to be retested.
He told the judge he wanted something good to come out of what he admitted was a horrible tragedy. He told the judge he wanted to go back to his old neighborhood in Chicago, to meet with young men who might be making bad choices and talk with them about correcting their behavior.
“I can’t bring Jacob back; I can’t feel the pain his mother and father feel,” Goodman said. “But … something good has to come out of this.”
Prosecutor John Keiffner asked the judge to sentence Goodman to the maximum penalty. He pointed to Goodman’s destructive behavior in the Hancock County Jail, which resulted in additional criminal charges for Goodman because of damaged county property. He argued those transgressions were further evidence of a man who needs to be punished.
But Bonnie Wooten, Goodman’s attorney, said that misbehavior was the action of a grieving man.
Goodman knew all of the people who were injured in the accident. They were his friends and loved ones, she said. Several wrote letters to the judge, asking for a shortened sentence, and some spoke in court to tell the judge Goodman was a kind and helpful person who didn’t deserve to be locked away.
“He knew these people; they were his friends,” Wooten said. “He would never have sought to hurt any of them.”