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For DUI deaths of two friends, driver, 23, given up to 15 years

Published January 5, 2008 1:49 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

PROVO - Long before driving drunk and killing two of his friends in July, prosecutors say Benjamin Louis Shaw passed up many chances to turn around his life.

As a juvenile, Shaw racked up 10 misdemeanor convictions, including several drug-related charges. As an adult, Shaw, 23, received five misdemeanor and three felony convictions, prosecutor Chad Grunander said.

"Society and the system have given him opportunities to overcome his problems," said Grunander on Friday before 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock. "He has been an unfortunate danger to himself and to the community. Mr. Shaw is deserving of a heavy sentence today."

Laycock agreed Friday, sentencing Shaw to serve a one-to-15 year prison term for causing the deaths of Ashley Ann North, 20, of Pleasant Grove, and Stephan Sean Peery, 20, of Provo, on July 14. Shaw pleaded guilty to two second-degree felony counts of automobile homicide. He received another year for admitting to being in possession of a controlled substance in an unrelated case.

"I want to take full responsibility for my actions," Shaw said. "I can't explain to the families how sorry I am. How regretful I am."

Shaw was driving about 60 mph when he struck a utility pole at 2230 N. University Ave. Killed in the crash were North and Peery, while Edward Cody Fairbanks was seriously injured.

Grunander said the group of friends had left a party where several people were drinking. Another friend attempted to drive that night, but he nearly crashed into a road sign. Everyone in the car then decided that Shaw should drive next, said defense attorney Anthony Howell.

"[Shaw] crashed into a light pole and killed two of his very best friends," Howell said. "Ben is and will be punished for the rest of his life."

A blood sample taken after the crash showed that Shaw's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.25, which was more than three times the legal limit of 0.08, Grunander said.

The Utah Board of Pardons will determine exactly how long he will serve behind bars, Laycock said.

"I think this is a tragic case. I didn't sleep very well last night," the judge said. "The bottom line is that Mr. Shaw was driving the car that night. He's the one before me today."

The sentence followed letters of support and pleas for leniency from Shaw's friends and family members, who asked that he be placed on probation.

Although Shaw battled an addiction to alcohol and drugs, his father, Jerry Shaw, said he used tough-love in an attempt to change his son for the better. Most recently, Shaw, the youngest of 13 children, was even holding down a job.

Peery's mother, Dawnna, said punishing Shaw with prison time would not benefit the 23-year-old or society. She asked that he be placed on probation and ordered into rehabilitation. So did Fairbanks, who said Shaw was turning his life around.

The judge remained unswayed.

"I wish that Mr. Shaw had been successful earlier. As a result, we have two people who died," Laycock said. "This is a tragedy for us all."





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