POMEROY — More than three months after pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, Austin R. Halfhill was sentenced to 16 to 20 years in prison on Tuesday in Meigs County Common Pleas Court.
Halfhill, 23, of Pomeroy, was indicted in September 2019 on nine counts, including felony charges of aggravated vehicular homicide (two first degree felony counts and two second degree felony counts) and misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle under the influence (three counts) and vehicular manslaughter (two counts).
In February, he pleaded guilty to two first-degree felony charges of aggravated vehicular homicide in the deaths of John McElfresh and Brenda Suttle, as well as one misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle under the influence.
In pleading guilty, Halfhill admitted to being the driver of a vehicle which went left of center and struck a motorcycle driven by McElfresh, 62, of Glouster on Aug. 4 on State Route 7 near Chester. McElfresh was killed in the crash, as was Suttle, 59, of Crooksville, a passenger on the motorcycle.
Halfhill was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash, as well as being under the influence of methamphetamine, amphetamines and unprescribed suboxone, according to statements made in court by the state.
On Tuesday, Prosecutor James K. Stanley argued for the maximum sentence in the case or 22 to 27.5 years in prison. The maximum sentence on each first-degree felony charge is 11 years, with an indefinate term of 50 percent of the sentence on the highest level felony.
Public Defender Michael Huff argued for a lesser sentence for Halfhill, asking for a mid-range sentence which would not be ordered to be served consecutively. Huff stated that Halfhill has expressed remorse for the crimes he committed, and has no felony criminal record or violent misdemeanor offenses.
Victim Assistance Director Theda Petrasko read victim impact statements from the Suttle and McElfresh families, many of whom were present in the courtroom.
“This tragedy greatly impacted our entire family. Austin Halfhill will never fully understand what he has taken from us. … There is a huge void in our lives now,” read a portion of the statement from Suttle’s son. He asked that Halfhill be given a maximum sentence with time to think about what happened and why it happened.
“In the end, hopefully Austin Halfhill will become a better person for himself and society,” concluded the statement.
Petrasko also read a statement from McElfresh’s son, stating in part, “My father’s life was cut short. He had many more lessons to teach me and my two kids.” He also noted the void left by the passing of his father and Suttle, adding, “These two were finally taking time for themselves and enjoying life with each other.”
In the statement he also asked Halfhill if he was willing to grow from the actions, including to “get clean, find the Lord and better yourself.”
“My father taught me the importance of living a life you are proud of and I want that for you,” he added. “If you are looking for forgiveness … this must begin with you.”
Halfhill’s brother and grandmother also addressed the court, with his grandmother asking that Halfhill be ordered to get his high school diploma (or GED) while in prison and to take part in treatment programs.
Both expressed their condolences to the McElfresh and Suttle families as did Halfhill as he turned to speak to the families.
In addition to the prison sentence, Halfhill is under a lifetime driver’s license suspension and five years mandatory post release control. Judge Linda Warner also ordered Halfhill to get his GED and to take part in any treatment or other programs available to him.
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Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.