Adam Neuhaus imposed a life sentence on himself and two loving families the moment he drove negligently on a Germantown road, killed a 50-year-old father riding a bicycle and fled the scene.
Washington County Circuit Judge Todd Martens made that observation after he listened to Neuhaus choke an apology through sobs and studied the anguish on the faces of the dozens of grieving friends and relatives who filled a courtroom for a formal sentencing hearing Monday.
The two-hour hearing was a powerful display of grief and forgiveness, and the impact of negligent driving.
“This is a courtroom full of sadness; a courtroom full of heartbreak,” Martens said. “Two exemplary lives have turned tragic based on one person’s decision.”
The judge then sentenced Neuhaus to 30 months in prison and five years’ probation for homicide by negligent use of a vehicle, a felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison and five years’ probation.
On Aug. 23, 2015, Neuhaus crashed into Keith Habenicht while driving south on Appleton Ave. Police found he had spent the previous four hours drinking in a tavern in Richfield, and left distraught over a conflict with his girlfriend.
The impact sent Habenicht flying 218 feet, and ravaged his body. Neuhaus continued driving, despite the extensive damage that included a shattered windshield, damaged bumper and broken head light.
He concealed his involvement in the crash for more than 20 hours, then contacted Germantown police. He pleaded guilty to the charges in July.
“I conclude it was not in your best interest to stop because of what you had been doing the previous four hours,” Martens said. “We will never know if you were impaired.
“Keith will never enjoy the happiness and peace and bounty of old age, only because of your reckless driving.”
When he killed Habenicht, Neuhaus robbed a family of a father, son and brother, and spurred divisions within a close and caring group. He turned his own life into a shell of what it had been – now withdrawn from friends, suffering from depression and removed from his hobbies.
He and all those who loved Keith Habenicht will never regain what they lost in that moment.
Tanner Habenicht, 14, scolded Neuhaus for not stopping to help his father, who died less than two miles from their home.
“I’ll never be able to see him again, never get another one of his hugs, thanks to you,” the young man said.
Habenicht’s widow, Michelle, asked Martens to impose the maximum sentence: five years in prison and five years of extended supervision, and scolded Neuhaus for being a coward.
“Keith would want you to be held accountable,” she said. “It’s the only think I can do for him to try to get some justice.”
The defendant listened through the two-hour hearing with his head bowed, and he managed to talk only after clutching a handkerchief to his face for long pauses.
“I will never be able to forgive myself for what I have done,” he said, his shoulders heaving and his mother’s arm around him for support.
Martens recognized the remorse that Neuhaus expressed, and the dozens of letters that spoke to his outstanding character, his years of solid work and commitment to his family.
He declined, though, to offer the leniency sought by Neuhaus’ parents and several of Habenicht’s relatives.
Habenicht’s mother and two sisters all asked Martens to keep him out of prison, and instead impose a one-year jail sentence. They asked that Neuhaus be allowed to work and strive to contribute to society.
“If Adam spent the next 10 years creating memories with his family, that would make Keith happy,” his sister, Lori Ress, said. “I forgive Adam, and I know Keith would forgive him too.”
Martens praised the kindness and empathy shared by members of the Habenicht family, but said failing to send Neuhaus to prison would unjustly depreciate the seriousness of his actions.
Habenicht had flashing lights on the front and back of his bicycle, as he rode home from a trip to the store. He was riding on the right side of the road and doing what 100s of people do every day in Washington County, the judge said.
A prison sentence for Neuhaus was warranted to remind others of their responsibility behind the wheel.
“A person should be able to ride their bike down the road, sharing the road with cars, without fearing they will be run down by someone who is texting or drunk or upset about their girlfriend,” Martens said.