WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — He was driving so fast his pickup truck was described as a “two-and-a-half ton missile” before it smashed into a minivan in Exton earlier this year and killed two Chester County siblings. Now, the man from Media who pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence will spend the next 18 to 36 years behind bars.
Wearing a gray sport coat, his arms shackled to a leather belt around his waist, Thomas Muir’s voice quavered as he stood and told Miles and Charlotte Hannagan’s parents “I wish it had been me to die” that Valentine’s Day evening on Rt. 100 in Uwchlan Township.
“They had hopes and aspirations and futures, and I stole that from them,” Muir, 26, said as he hunched closer to the podium microphone. “I come with no excuse. My heart is broken for you. Sorry will never be enough. I take responsibility for my actions and I accept whatever sentence I receive.”
Muir’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, told the court, “We’re not asking for mercy… I’m just asking you not to be merciless.”
Chester County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Carmody sentenced Muir to a few years shy of the 22-to-44 year maximum.
Muir’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit and he had taken the drug Klonopin — the effects of which can potentiate when mixed with booze — when he was behind the wheel of his GMC Sierra, approaching 100mph in a 40mph work zone near Ship Road, where he struck the Hannagans’ minivan. Muir had been reading a text message moments before impact.
Miles, 19, and Charlotte, 16, were flung from the vehicle — still in the seats in which they were belted — by the force of the crash.
Their parents were two of the eleven people who read statements to a tear-filled, standing-room only Courtroom 1 about the continued impact of the teens’ deaths.
“I’ve been given a life sentence of pain,” said Paul Hannagan. “He [Muir] has sucked the joy out of my life and has left me broken.” It was not an accident, he argued, but instead “the predicted outcome of appalling decisions and breathtakingly reckless behavior” by Muir.
“I never got to say goodbye,” Maggie Hannagan said, as the courtroom echoed with sobs. “Death would have been easier than living without them. Everywhere I go and everything I do, I long for the family I once had. We are left with the next 30 to 40 years of incomprehensible sadness.”
Dozens of people in the courtroom wore large red-and-black houndstooth ribbons imprinted with the names of Miles and Charlotte.
They were remembered as people who made a difference in their Downingtown community: Miles earned Eagle Scout recognition, volunteered as an EMT, was studying at West Chester University, and had his sights set on becoming a doctor; “quirky” Charlotte loved art, was a fan of heavy metal music, became thrilled at the prospect of studying Nordic history in Sweden, and had a knack for making those who were “different” — like her friend Peter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome — feel protected and loved. Both played in the Washington Memorial Pipe Band with their father.
Ann Babb, who got to know the Hannagans through Scouts, implored the judge to be “harsh” when sentencing Muir.
“They were an incredible pair,” Babb said of Miles and Charlotte. “A brother and sister who were clearly best friends and part of a family of four people who loved each other, adopted each other’s hobbies and interests, and were inseparable. It’s been an incredible loss.”
Muir’s mother, Kathy, told the court that her son “accepts full responsibility and is remorseful beyond words.” Turning to Thomas and loudly exhorting him to meet her gaze, she said, “I trust you to accept this [sentence] with integrity.”
As he considered what sentence to impose, Judge Carmody told Muir that he’d squandered the second chance he’d been granted after a previous drug arrest (a reduced charge that Paul Hannagan described as a “gamble” by the law: “We now know the stake on that bet was the lives of my children”).
“You played Russian roulette with your life and others,” Carmody said to Muir. “You may not have set out to hurt anyone that night, but what you did shows that you didn’t care about anyone but yourself.”
Carmody said he “wrestled” with the sentence, and cautioned that the penalty itself is not the message to others who drink and drive — that, he said, must be the work of people like Muir or even the Hannigans who can turn tragedy into a teachable moment.
“If there’s a heaven,” Carmody said to the Hannagans, “Miles and Charlotte will be playing in a band there.”
Charles Gaza, the Chester County District Attorney Chief of Staff, said he was satisfied with the sentence.
“It is never acceptable — it is socially unacceptable — to drink and drive,” Gaza told KYW Newsradio after the hearing. “There are so many options: taxi, Uber, friends, family. Any one of those people would come when called. I hope at least one person because of this sentence thinks twice and doesn’t put the key in the ignition.”