BY JOSEPH KOHUT (STAFF WRITER) – The Times-Tribune
Mary Considine answered a knock on her door sometime early on Feb. 24. Two solemn state troopers stood in the frame.
Her older brother, Michael Evans, is dead, they explained. He died in a car crash in Clifton Twp. with a longtime friend, Matthew Gajdys, who was the driver and survived. Mr. Evans was a passenger, and alcohol may have been involved.
“Part of me died that day,” she told Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse on Wednesday, shortly before he sentenced Mr. Gajdys, 32, of Dunmore, to 11 to 22 months in Lackawanna County Prison for homicide by vehicle, a single DUI count and one summary traffic offense.
Ms. Considine knew she needed to tell her parents in Virginia immediately, though the news would kill them. Kimberly and Jim Evans could hear the trouble in her voice when she called. Then she told them.
“Mike’s dead, Mike’s dead,” they repeated. “My son is dead.”
She has never been able to get their screams out of her head.
But the way to healing is through compassion and forgiveness, the family concluded. On Wednesday, the Evans family asked for “justice tempered by mercy,” and Judge Barrasse delivered.
Mr. Gajdys’ sentence includes time served, meaning that he could theoretically be parole eligible in January.
Police initially charged Mr. Gajdys with, among others, homicide by vehicle while DUI, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in a state prison. That charge was dropped in a plea deal taken in August at the request of the Evans family, in part for his cooperation in a possible civil suit which would name Mr. Evans’ small child as the only beneficiary.
State police said Mr. Gajdys crashed into a tractor trailer on Route 435 in Clifton Twp. Mr. Evans, 33, was pinned beneath the Jeep Cherokee and several empty Coors Light beer cans were found strewn around the crash scene as well as inside the Jeep. Mr. Gajdys told state police he had been drinking that night. He had a blood alcohol content of .199 – more than double the state’s legal limit of .08 – and he had recently used marijuana, a blood test showed.
Attorney James Powell, who the family retained for the potential civil action, said after the sentencing that the suit has not been filed but he expects it to be. The suit would be against the establishments that served them alcohol on the night of Feb. 23. and possibly the trucking company involved in the crash, pending the outcome of the civil investigation.
The Evans family asked for compassion from the court because they know Mr. Gajdys will forever be a “prisoner in his own mind.”
At first there was a desire for revenge and a need for someone to blame, Jim Evans Sr. told Judge Barrrasse on Wednesday. That changed when he saw Mr. Gajdys in handcuffs on the television. He looked like a broken man, like a victim himself, Mr. Evans reflected.
Mr. Gajdys and Mike Evans had been friends for 15 years, Mrs. Evans said, and Mr. Gajdys had recently fallen on hard times.
An Army veteran, he has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. What happened to Mr. Gajdys overseas changed him and left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. Mr. Gajdys took to substance abuse to self-medicate and eventually ended up sleeping under a bridge.
Mr. Gajdys might as well have been family to Mike Evans, so he did not hesitate to take him into his home until he got back on his feet.
But Mr. Gajdys was not getting the help he needed, and it broke Mr. Evans’ heart that he may need to tell his friend to leave, older brother Jim Evans Jr. said on Wednesday.
“Jim, I’m telling you, he’s going to end up killing somebody,” Mr. Evans told his older brother 40 hours before he died.
Mr. Gajdys fought tears as he told Judge Barrasse he would need to bear his guilt for the rest of his life. Every day he wakes up, Mr. Gajdys knows he took a father away from a small child as Mike Evans has a son.
Family members asked Judge Barrasse for a sentence that will allow Mr. Gajdys to get his life together. Atonement can come from sparing another family the same grief they have already experienced.
After Mr. Gajdys is released from prison he will serve approximately 5½ years of probation as well as 1,000 hours of community service. The community service will focus on speaking with high school and college students, as well as returning military veterans, about substance abuse.
Grief-stricken, Mrs. Evans cautioned others who may be quick to cast aspirations on Mr. Gajdys. Many people have driven drunk and have never been prosecuted for it, so it is not for them to judge Mr. Gajdys.
“You too are held accountable,” Mrs. Evans said.
In closing her speech before the judge, Mrs. Evans displayed the ultimate in compassion.
“I love you, Matthew, and that will never change,” she said.