Red Land HS senior's family shows mercy to driver who killed her
Despite being devastated and traumatized by the 2015 crash death of Red Land High School senior Emily Kate Groft, her family summoned the mercy to support a punishment that allowed Emily's friend to avoid prison.
Brooke Nicole Livering, 21, of Salem Road in Fairview Township, pleaded guilty in York County Court Thursday, Aug. 31, to reckless endangerment and reckless driving. In exchange for her plea, a charge of vehicular homicide was dropped.
As part of her negotiated plea agreement, Livering was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service, a six-month driver's-license suspension, a $200 fine and court costs.
The agreement also requires her to participate in a victim-impact panel in which she must deal face-to-face with Emily's grieving family.
She also must attend Drag School USA. which is an intensive, personalized behavioral program designed to mature teens and young adults into better drivers and citizens, according to its website.
She was not on alcohol or drugs when the crash happened, according to senior deputy prosecutor Sarah Buhite, who blamed speed as the cause.
Defendant emotional: Livering cried throughout her sentencing hearing as she listened to her friend's grieving family members give victim-impact statements to presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner.
Buhite told the judge the plea agreement was appropriate "given the defendant's young age, her familiarity with the victim and the wishes of the victim's family," as well as the fact that Livering cooperated with police from the start of the investigation.
Emily's mother, Malisa Elicker, said she misses her daughter's silly jokes and even the way she danced in the kitchen.
"Emily was beautiful, smart and funny ... creative and hardworking," Elicker said. "She would've been a wonderful mother. She wanted lots of babies."
Emily, 17, of Lewisberry, had hoped to attend Messiah College and study nursing.
"There's always an emptiness, always a sadness," Elicker told Bortner. "I have nightmares. I have anxiety attacks. ... Her grandpa cries every day."
Mom comforts mom: As Elicker spoke, Livering's mother sobbed in the courtroom. The two mothers hugged before the hearing started, a court official confirmed.
Buhite later told The York Dispatch she is convinced Livering is truly remorseful for causing her friend's death.
Livering declined comment afterward through her defense attorney, Korey Leslie.
Dawn Smith — Emily's aunt and Elicker's sister — described for Bortner watching her sister's grief and not being able to give her any real comfort.
"She took a blanket and a pillow to the cemetery to sleep, because that's the only place she felt (comfort)," Smith said. "It is a helpless, awful feeling."
Elicker and other family members were left "shattered," according to Smith.
"Everyone pretends to be OK. Everybody fakes a smile," she said. If they didn't fake it, they wouldn't be able to go on, she said.
Thinks of last moments: Wendy Klinger, another aunt of Emily, said she thinks about how scared Emily must have been in her last moments and said she longs for her niece's quick wit and infectious laugh.
Emily's father, Patrick Groft, said police and a chaplain knocked on his door in the middle of the night, and it was "the worst thing that can possibly happen."
"My life is changed forever," he said. "Our whole family's life has changed forever."
Donald Groft, Emily's grandfather, said he'd like for Livering to visit Emily's grave with him weekly so she can "meditate with me about what she has done and what she has done to our family."
Buhite noted in court that "there's no sentence that's ever equal to the life of an individual."
Judge Bortner noted that Emily "had a remarkable family ... for the time she was on this earth," and that she would be proud of them.
The crash: The crash happened about 9:15 p.m. Aug. 23, 2015, in the 400 block of Big Spring Road, near the intersection of Elder Trail in Fairview Township, officials have said.
Emily was wearing her seat belt but still suffered multiple injuries, according to the York County Coroner's Office. Livering suffered minor injuries and was transported to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for treatment.
Court documents state Livering was driving east in a 2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse, with Emily in the front passenger seat, when the car crashed into a tree passenger-side first.
Livering told an officer at the scene, "I was going (too) fast and lost control," charging documents allege.
Speeding: A reconstruction of the crash by state police determined Livering was going 54 mph in a 30 mph zone when she lost control of the car in a sharp left curve in the road, documents state.
She lost control because she was going too fast and tried to overcorrect, police indicated in those documents.
Police maintain Livering was jealous of another friend who lived nearby and texted, "listen soon."
The next thing witnesses heard were screeching tires and a loud bang, police said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.