DURHAM — A Superior Court judge just shook her head and said, “unbelievable,” after she heard from the wife of a man who was killed by a drunken driver a year ago on Interstate 40.
“You’re a special lady,” Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan told Amber Kiley after Kiley said she wanted the man who killed her husband to have a second opportunity in life.
Raul Herrera, 32, of High Point, appeared in Durham County Superior Court Thursday afternoon and pleaded guilty to felony death by vehicle in the death of Brian Edward Kiley, a standup comedian from Goodlettsville, Tenn., who died at the scene of the wreck near the N.C. 54 interchange on Feb. 17, 2013.
Kiley, who specialized in family-friendly comedy, had just performed in Newton, near Hickory, and was driving to his next show when he was killed. He had recently married and was planning on cutting back on the comedy circuit to stick closer to home.
Herrera’s plea agreement with the state is unique, and it was developed with the help of Amber Kiley, said Assistant District Attorney Dale Morrill.
Amber Kiley said she and her husband’s family wanted to give Herrera a second chance to be a good father to his children and be an advocate against drunken driving.
“When I met with him, I felt he was a person who was good,” she said.
Herrera was driving about 80 mph when he came up behind Kiley’s vehicle and struck it from behind, causing Kiley’s car to slide 300 yards sideways before flipping over and ejecting him from the vehicle.
Herrera’s blood alcohol measured about 0.20, nearly three times the legal limit, Morrill said.
Amber Kiley told the court that she did not think sending someone to prison would help, and there was a possibility he might come out a hardened criminal.
Herrera’s attorney, Patrick Roberts, said Amber Kiley came to North Carolina to meet Herrera, and they spent about 40 minutes alone together in his office. They spoke candidly and honestly with each other, he said.
“She is, quite frankly, a remarkable woman,” Roberts said.
In the plea agreement, Herrera, who did not have a criminal record, was sentenced to 51 months to 74 months in prison. That sentence was suspended, and he was placed on supervised probation for four years,
As part of his probation, he must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week for four years. His driver’s license is suspended for three years. He also must perform 15 hours of community service each month for a total of 720 hours, and participate in 20 hours each year for four years in Mothers Against Drunk Driving events and speak publicly about driving while impaired once a year for four years.
Herrera stood to speak and said he was sincerely sorry for taking the life of such a wonderful individual.
“Brian Kiley was a remarkable man, a man of faith and a great comedian,” Herrera said. “It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time when I watch one of those videos.”
Amber Kiley ended up being the one to console him, he said, “which absolutely humbled me to the very core.”
At the end of the hearing, Bushfan said the hearing was one of the few moments she’s had in court where the justice system had a hand in beginning the healing process for everyone.
She thanked Amber Kiley and Raul Herrera.
“I want to thank the man whose life was taken,” she said. “He may be gone, but his spirit lives forever.”
After the hearing, Amber Kiley and Raul Herrera embraced, each wiping tears from their eyes.