American citizen Anne Sacoolas was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, at the Old Bailey in London for causing the death of British teenager Harry Dunn in a fatal traffic collision in August 2019, meaning she will not have to go to jail.
Sacoolas pleaded guilty in October to causing death by careless driving, punishable by up to five years in prison.
She admitted to driving on the wrong side of the road when she hit the 19-year-old motorcyclist outside a US military base in England, where her husband worked as a US diplomat.
Harry Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles, who has spent more than three years campaigning for justice for her son, told the court that the family was determined his death “will not be in vain.”
“I made a promise to Harry in the hospital that we will get justice, and a mother never breaks her promise to her son,” she said.
Speaking thought tears, Charles added: “There is an intense feeling of emptiness in the pit of my stomach without Harry around. His passing haunts me every minute of every day and I’m not sure how I will ever get over it.”
Sacoolas wiped away tears as Charles detailed the impact her son’s death had on the family.
“Harry’s twin Niall unfortunately continues to be hit very hard, and he remains a cause for concern,” Charles added. “I didn’t lose just one son when Harry died, I lost Niall too. He is a shell of himself. I’m petrified he’ll do something terrible one day and I’ll lose him too for good.”
The court on Thursday heard some of the harrowing details of the moments after the crash.
Outlining the case, prosecutor said Sacoolas drove 350 meters for 26 seconds on the wrong side of the road after turning from the airbase before colliding with Dunn, who was “thrown onto the front” of her car and over, while his motorcycle caught fire.
The prosecutor then described how the gravely injured Dunn told a first responder repeatedly “don’t let me die.”
Sacoolas was not present in person for the sentencing, despite High Court judge Mrs. Justice Cheema-Grubb appealing for Sacoolas to return to Britain to face sentencing in person. She appeared via a video link after the court gave her a permission to do so.
In the sentencing hearing on Thursday, Justice Cheema-Grubb said that she was told Sacoolas’s “US Government employer” said her appearance at court in the UK would place “significant US interest at risk” and that, according to the documents, Sacoolas was “not at liberty to disclose further information.”
Speaking in front of the court after the hearing, Charles said she thought it was “despicable” that Sacoolas didn’t attend the hearing in person.
Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity claimed on her behalf and was able to leave the United Kingdom weeks after the accident. Britain’s attempt to extradite Sacoolas to face charges of causing death by dangerous driving was declined by US authorities, and the incident has sparked some tension between the two countries.
After the sentencing, Charles said she found the way the US government handled the case “disgusting.”
Addressing Sacoolas on Thursday, the judge said that it was only because of the “dignified persistence” of Dunn’s parents and family that “has led, through three years of heartbreak and effort, to your appearance before the court and the opportunity for you to acknowledge your guilt of a crime.”
Sacoolas’ lawyer, Ben Cooper, told the court that “she did not ask for diplomatic immunity” and that she didn’t play “any part” in the extradition process. The decision to deny extradition was taken by the US government, according to Cooper.
He read a statement on Sacoolas’ behalf, saying she was “deeply sorry for the pain I have caused” and that “not a day goes by” where Harry Dunn isn’t on her mind.
Cooper added that Sacoolas’ family was forced to relocate following Harry Dunn’s death after she received death threats via email and telephone.
Charles said she was satisfied to have fulfilled the promise she made to her son. “Anne Sacoolas has a criminal record for the rest of her life. That was something she never thought she’d see, something the US government never thought they’d see,” she told reporters, adding that she and the family were not invested in the sentence the judge was going to hand down. “For us it was all about doing the right thing, getting through the UK justice system.”
Looking up to the sky, she said: “Harry we done it. We’re good. We’re good.”
CNN’s Jonny Hallam and Zahid Mahmood contributed reporting.