Drunk driving accident claimed life of Beacon Falls resident
WATERBURY — William Baer will never again get to see his son come through the front door of his Beacon Falls home or hear his voice on the telephone.
The remaining members of William Baer Jr.’s family were robbed of life’s moments with him when his car was hit head-on by Edmundo Mendieta, a 34-year-old man from New Haven who was drunk and driving the wrong way on Route 8.
Mendieta was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday during an emotional hearing in Waterbury Superior Court where Baer’s family detailed the heartache that Baer’s death has caused them in the days and years since the 2012 crash.
“I grieve for my son with every beat of my heart,” Baer’s mother Lynn said through tears. “My son’s life was taken away from him when it was just getting started.”
Mendieta told police he drank six beers on an empty stomach before he climbed behind the wheel of a Chevy van on April 28, 2012. Although Mendieta didn’t recall the accident or the drive that preceded it, police later found that he entered Route 8 in Naugatuck near Exit 27 and headed north in the southbound lane just before 10 p.m.
William Baer Jr., 24, was headed south in his Honda Accord when the deadly, head-on collision occurred. Mendieta struck the car with a force that sent the van into the air and onto a nearby jersey barrier.
Authorities later determined that Mendieta’s blood-alcohol level was 0.221 percent, nearly triple the legal limit to drive. In the passenger seat with Baer Jr. was Sara Chmielewski, a Stratford resident who is now in her early 20s. Firefighters freed them from the wreckage, but both were unconscious and suffering from serious injuries.
Chmielewski survived the accident, but will never work again due to the head injuries she suffered in the crash, according to Senior Supervisory State’s Attorney John Davenport.
William Baer Jr., a Beacon Falls resident, graduated from the University of Connecticut with a mechanical engineering degree and was climbing the ladder within the aerospace industry, his father said.
The last time he saw his son was on a warm spring day when he came to go for a run with his younger brother, who was working toward a martial arts black belt.
He and his younger brother gave their father a hug that day, and Baer Jr. was supposed to come back to the family’s home to work on the brakes of his Honda. He never made it, and the family received a devastating call informing them of the accident.
The family then made a heartrending decision to take Baer Jr. off of life support while he lay in a hospital bed; there was only a slim chance he would have survived his injuries.
“I knew it was a matter of time until I lost my baby,” the elder Baer said.
To his mom, the younger Baer was a loyal, funny and vibrant son. His death was like a light switch that turned her own life off, she said. She’s anxious when driving and is in pain constantly from his loss. She described Mendieta’s choice to drink that night as a “selfish” act that took away her son.
Mendieta, who worked for a flooring company, suffered leg and facial injuries in the crash. He has healed since then and walked into court on Thursday. A Spanish interpreter helped him understand the proceedings.
After hearing the ways Baer’s death had impacted the family, Mendieta, a stocky, dark-haired man with a light beard, just shook his head from side to side when he was asked if he had anything to say for himself. Other than keeping his head down, he showed little reaction to the family’s comments and no one spoke on his behalf.
Judge Roland Fasano, who was shown color photos of the younger Baer, harshly condemned Mendieta’s actions, calling the crash a horrendous situation.
“The real injustice is that you survived the deadly mayhem you created,” Fasano told him. “I hope you bear the weight of this tragedy to your dying day.”
In addition to pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter, Mendieta also was convicted of second-degree assault with a motor vehicle and driving under the influence. He doesn’t have any past convictions on his record.
After he’s released from prison, Fasano ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service and to attend two victim-impact panels geared toward preventing drunk driving incidents.