Returning home from a restaurant dinner with friends on the evening of June 27, 2010, real estate attorney Fred Seeman, 62, was at the wheel and his art advisor wife Helene Seeman, 60, was in the front-passenger seat as Fred began turning into his driveway in Montgomery, New Jersey. Suddenly a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV crashed into the Seeman car.
Emergency workers found Helene dead at the scene. Fred was flown to a nearby hospital where he was found in critical condition. He recovered.
The driver of the SUV that ran into the Seeman’s vehicle was fleeing the scene of a previous accident in which she had rear-ended a car driven by Maureen Ruckelshaus. When the driver who had slammed into Ruckelshaus’ car drove away, Ruckelshaus gave chase. Ruckelshaus claimed the driver she pursued was “swerving and knocking down several mailboxes” so Ruckelshaus honked her horn and flashed her lights to persuade the driver to stop. The driver continued and was driving 20 mph over the speed limit on a dark two-lane road when she hit the Seemans.
Police officers found the SUV driver had alcohol on her breath and bloodshot eyes. They identified her as actress-turned-homemaker Amy Locane-Bovenizer, 38. Married to heavyset liquor store owner and volunteer firefighter Mark Bovenizer in 2008, Amy was also a mother of two small daughters, Paige Cricket and Avery Hope.
Amy participated in community theatre. On the afternoon of June 27, 2010, Amy attended a wrap party for a play in which she was performing. After that, she attended a friend’s barbecue.
Arrested and taken to a hospital, Amy’s blood alcohol level was measured as .268 — three times the legal limit for driving in New Jersey that is .08.
She was charged with aggravated manslaughter, second-degree vehicular homicide, and third-degree assault. Aggravated manslaughter carried a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment.
Amy was arraigned on June 28, 2010, before Superior Court Judge Robert Reed who set her bail at $50,000. She made bail and was released.
One of Amy’s lawyers, Blair Zwillman, commented, “I’m surprised that an aggravated manslaughter charge was included. I don’t think it’s appropriate. We are going to fiercely defend it.” He elaborated, “The other driver made a left turn on a road where Amy Locane was driving straight. Ms. Locane was followed by [another driver] for nearly four miles at high speeds.” Zwillman asserted that Ruckelshaus “chased [Amy] right into the accident scene.”
The crash grabbed attention because Amy’s acting career remained fresh in the public mind.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Amy was ten years old when a local photographer recognized her potential. The photographer took pictures of Amy and sent them to a New York agent. Accompanied by her mother, Amy was soon commuting to New York to audition for commercials, frequently doing homework on the train. She had appeared in fifty commercials by the time she was twelve. She also landed roles in movies including John Waters’ cult film Cry-Baby (1990).
At 19, Amy was cast in the hit series Melrose Place (1992) for which she is best remembered although she left after thirteen episodes.
She went on to play in such films as Bongwater (1997) and Secretary (2002) before devoting herself fulltime to home and hearth.
In late 2011, a hearing was held to determine if statements Amy made in the aftermath of the crash were legally admissible in court. Superior Court Judge Angela Borkowski presided.
Zwillman contended that the statements were inadmissible because Amy had been given two milligrams of Ativan while she was intoxicated, rendering her incapable of control over statements.
Eugene Paik reported in The Star-Ledger, “Witness testimony in Locane’s Miranda hearing and a taped police interview depicted the 39-year-old Locane as a drunken, giddy, talkative woman in the immediate aftermath of the crash.” Witnesses said she giggled and appeared to flirt with a cop.
Judge Borkowski ruled that Amy’s post-crash statements were admissible and could be used in the trial. The judge wrote that, although Amy was “clearly intoxicated,” she understood the consequences of waiving her right to remain silent and talking with police.
Amy’s trial began in October 2012. Somerset County Assistant Prosecutor Mathew Murphy told jurors in his opening that Ruckelshaus tried to talk to Amy, who refused to pay attention and was drunk. Murphy said Ruckelshaus tried to stop Amy, who sped away and never even applied the brake when the Seemans turned into their driveway.
In the defense’s opening statement, Zwillman argued that Ruckelshaus had behaved like a vigilante. Zwillman asserted, “She began to act as a police officer, which she had no right to do.” Zwillman said that when Amy and Ruckelshaus discussed the rear-ending, Ruckelshaus reached into Amy’s car to grab her keys. Frightened, Amy had jumped into her car to flee someone that she believed was dangerous. Ruckelshaus’ pursuit was “distracting” to Amy and was the ultimate cause of the crash. Zwillman said she could not stop.
Prosecutors called Fred Seeman. He wept as he said Helene made gurgling sounds as she died. He also said that 2010 was the “last glorious year” for his family as they watched the youngest of their two sons graduate high school
Police officer William Wilkes testified that in the immediate aftermath of the accident, Amy “said we were being overly dramatic. I said, ‘The reason I’m making such a big deal is because you were just in a severe two-car collision.’” He said he found her sitting upright in a ditch and that she giggled. He also testified that she urinated in her hospital bed.
Amy did not testify.
Defense attorneys argued that Fred Seeman had contributed to the accident by making the turn slowly. They also argued that Ruckelshaus frightened and distracted Amy.
In November 2012, the jury acquitted Amy of aggravated manslaughter but convicted her of vehicular homicide and assault by auto. Vehicular homicide carries a possible sentence of five to ten years’ imprisonment and assault by auto of three to five years. With the convictions, her bail was revoked and she was jailed.
Mark Bovenizer went to the jail to drop off a package of clothing for his wife the evening before her sentencing. Officers report that he became irate when they told him to wait for assistance. An officer took a food delivery before helping Mark, and police say he angrily ripped posters down from a wall. Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano Sr. said officers did not see Mark tear the posters but that Mark admitted it when asked. He was charged with two minor disorderly persons offenses because of his jail house meltdown.
Before Judge Robert Reed pronounced sentence on Amy, Fred Seeman made a victim’s impact statement in which he said the defense suggestion that his slow turning contributed to the accident put “salt on the wound.” He also asserted that Amy had taken no responsibility for killing his wife.
In her own statement, Amy apologized to the Seeman family and said she did accept responsibility. Tears streamed down her face as she spoke. “I am truly sorry for all of the pain I have caused,” she said.
The judge sentenced Amy to three years imprisonment. The judge explained the relatively light sentence by citing hardship on Amy’s children. Judge Reed was particularly concerned about little Avery who suffers from Crohn’s disease and must have a feeding tube inserted up her nose. Rema Rahman wrote for the Associated Press, “The defense went into detail about how her sick child was deteriorating physically and psychologically since the actress’ incarceration and about how a prolonged sentence would make it worse.”
Judge Reed also noted that before the accident Amy had had a relatively clean record with her only previous brush with the law being a 2001 arrest for marijuana possession.
The sentence makes Amy eligible to apply for parole after serving two and a half years. She receives credit for the eighty-one days she has already served in jail. She could be eligible to live in a halfway house in as little as six months.
Amy will have to serve three years of probation after her release. She must pay more than $12,900 in fines. Her driver’s license was suspended for five years.
On hearing the sentence, Fred Seeman exclaimed, “What a travesty!” Fred and Helene’s son, Ford Seeman, complained, “This is not justice” before angrily leaving the courtroom. Later he told a reporter, “What’s one more punch in the gut?”
Amy’s mother, Helen Locane, said, “I’m just glad her little girls will have their mother back soon.”
Police officers allege that on the day of Amy’s sentencing, Mark Bovenizer drove his car through a lawn, knocking down a shrub and mailbox and causing $800 worth of damage. In an action recalling his wife’s reaction to her fender bender with Ruckelshaus, Mark fled the accident. Police used crash debris to track his SUV to an auto-repair shop. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage, failure to report an accident, and failure to maintain lane.
A state prosecutor filed an appeal of the sentence on February 19, 2013, on the grounds that the judge acted improperly in focusing on Amy’s personal situation and her handicapped child. When Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano announced the appeal, he explained it in part by stating, “The sentence sends a bewildering message to our society about the consequences of driving while intoxicated, improperly places focus upon the defendant’s personal circumstances, and, quite frankly, re-victimizes the true victims in this case.”
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