By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
WATERBURY — Lynn Bertuca received notice of a parole hearing for the man who killed her son, William “B.J.” Baer Jr., on the ninth anniversary of the day her son died.
“Let that sink in for a moment,” Bertuca told a parole board July 14 during a hearing on whether Edmundo Mendieta should be released early from prison.
Mendieta, 43, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 for the drunken crash in 2012 that killed Baer, a Beacon Falls resident, and left his passenger, Sara Chmielewski, with debilitating head injuries.
Mendieta’s blood-alcohol level was 0.221 %, nearly triple the legal limit to drive, when he entered Route 8 in Naugatuck near Exit 27 and headed north in the southbound lane just before 10 p.m. on April 28, 2012.
Mendieta’s Chevy van crashed head-on with a Honda Accord driven by Baer, who died the next day. Baer was 24 years old.
Mendieta is scheduled to be released from prison in July 2023, but was eligible for parole this year.
Family members of Baer and Chmielewski pleaded with the parole board to deny his bid for early release.
The three-member board heeded the pleas, unanimously denying Mendieta parole.
Mendieta, dressed in beige prison shirt with a face mask draped around his neck, sat with his eyes down as testimony submitted by family members described how their worlds were shattered because he chose to drive drunk with no regard for others’ lives.
Chmielewski spent three weeks in a medically induced coma after the crash and will never work again due to the traumatic head injuries she suffered. She is permanently disabled and reliant on others to care for her the rest of her life.
Baer, who graduated from the University of Connecticut with a mechanical engineering degree, never got the chance to finish his master’s degree or meet his niece and nephew.
“My grandkids will never get to know their uncle B.J.,” said Bertuca, who read her statement during the hearing.
Bertuca said family members are only asking for Mendieta to complete the sentence imposed by the judge.
Family members said Mendieta showed no remorse after the crash and said nothing at his sentencing.
“This is what he thought of my son,” Bertuca said.
Mendieta apologized as he addressed the board and said he knows he might not deserve to be paroled.
“I can only say I’m sorry for all the families that I hurt,” he said, noting that if he could replace his life for Baer’s he would do it.
Mendieta, who told the board he’s an alcoholic, said he’s sober and attending AA meetings in prison. He said his wife and 15-year-old daughter are also suffering from his actions. He said when he’s released he will continue AA meetings and plans to be a positive figure in the community by spreading a message about the impact of drugs and alcohol.
The board members commended Mendieta for his actions in prison and agreed that he is a low risk to repeat his offense.
But, board member Debbie Smith-Palmieri said she didn’t think that outweighed Baer’s death or the long-lasting impact Mendieta had on Chmielewski’s life.
Board member Michael Pohl told Mendieta that while he took responsibility for his actions and alcoholism, he is also accountable to the victims, their families and the judge to complete his sentence.