Holding a prepared statement in his shackled hands, Daniel Braeunig told a Northampton County judge that his decision to drive drunk on Dec. 28, 2015, is one that will haunt him forever.
Not a day goes by that he hasn’t thought about the fact he’s taken loving memories away from the family of Dallas Paff, who died in a head-on collision with Braeunig’s Toyota Tundra.
Judge Stephen Baratta said he understood that the person under the influence of drugs and alcohol was not the same person standing before him Friday. But it was Braeunig who was arrested four times in the span of two weeks for drunk driving, he said.
“You left your home where you were safe, the community was safe, because you had no concern for the safety of others or yourself,” Baratta said.
The 37-year-old Braeunig will serve 5 to 10 years in state prison for the drunk-driving crash along Route 611 in Williams Township that killed the father of two. The judge sentenced Braeunig to up to another year for two other DUI-related offenses that will be served concurrently to the homicide by vehicle charge.
Poff, of Easton, was driving south on Route 611, when Braeunig's northbound Toyota Tundra crossed the center line. The truck spun in a circle before landing on its roof; Braeunig suffered a broken, ankle, foot and vertebrae that will require additional surgery.
Poff's Nissan Altima spun 180 degrees, and the 23-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.
A pre-sentencing investigation showed that Braeunig has a “significant history” with drugs and alcohol, having started drinking when he was 13 years old, according to Baratta. He was drinking beer and hard liquor three times a week by the time he was 17 and entered a three-month treatment program when he was 18.
Braeunig was drinking daily by the time he was 20, has used methamphetamine, pot, cocaine, PCP and mescaline and used LSD almost daily for a two-year period.
After making bail following his December arrest, Braeunig was remanded to Northampton County Prison in February while waiting for a bed at an in-patient treatment center because he tested positive for alcohol use, according to Baratta.
Assistant District Attorney Lupackino said this case of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence is far more egregious than other such cases because Braeunig crashed into Paff less than 24 hours after he was arrested for DUI.
The prosecution said Braeunig has two outstanding DUI cases in New Jersey. He allegedly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.2 percent during his Dec. 13 arrest and 0.08 percent during his Dec. 16 arrest.
Wilson Borough police arrested Braeunig about 4:15 p.m. Dec. 27 after they found him passed out in his truck; he registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.14 percent. After posting bail, the father of 2- and 5-year-old sons began drinking whiskey at home and decided to leave to buy cigarettes, when he caused the fatal crash.
Jennifer Poff, Dallas Poff’s wife, stood next to Braeunig as she quietly and tearfully addressed the court.
Dallas Poff always put his family first and worked long hours to provide for his 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, she said. And his death has put a tremendous amount of strain on the family.
“I may only be 23 years old, but he was the only person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” Jennifer Poff said, adding there hasn’t been a day she doesn’t think about her husband.
She told the court that she hoped Braeunig gets the punishment he deserves, but that he also learns from it.
Braeunig said he couldn’t find the words to express the devastation behind the loss of a husband and father and that he was pained by the loss experienced by Poff’s family and his own. Saying that he was not a heartless person, he asked for the court’s mercy on his sentence.
The facts are “really, really troubling” in regards to Braeunig’s ability to handle his addiction, Baratta said. The judge said he understands the devastation substance abuse can cause, and that he wanted to be sympathetic.
But it was Braeunig who made the choice to drive drunk four times in the span of two weeks, deciding to leave his home the fourth time, Baratta said. The judge considered the factors an aggravating circumstance in sentencing Braeunig to the maximum prison term allowed.