MAYS LANDING--The drunk driver who admitted to causing a crash that killed an Atlantic County corrections officer was sentenced in Superior Court this morning. The defendant has a long history of trying to hurt himself, but says he never wanted his problems to spill onto anyone else.
"I don't expect forgiveness because I can't forgive myself." Those were the words 31 year-old Anthony Ruggerio spoke to the family of the man he killed while drinking and driving. "It's not fair, it's not right," said Ruggerio, "if I could say sorry a thousand times and make it better, I would and I can't."
Ruggerio stood before the judge today to be sentenced for causing the January 2008 accident that claimed the life of 51 year-old John Cruz, Sr. Cruz, an Atlantic County Corrections Officer, was backing out of his driveway when Ruggerio, who's blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit, struck him from behind going more than 70 mph, causing Cruz's car to burst into flames while his son watch helplessly from the front yard.
"My brother John was sentenced to death," said Sonia Bermudez, "there was no plea bargain for my brother."
Cruz's large and close-knit family talked about the man they say brought everyone together, through letters read to the court. "This is an irreparable, unexplainable loss," wrote John Cruz, Jr., "nothing will fill the void that John Cruz, Dad, had left in the hearts of those who knew and loved him."
"I understand that he did not intentionally kill my father," wrote Cruz's daughter, Jessica Cruz about Ruggerio, "I understand that he has no prior criminal record, but he is a sick individual who needs help."
Ruggerio, who the judge said consumed hand sanitizer the day of the crash, has struggled with alcohol abuse since college. He also had a letter read on his behalf from his mother. "Anthony is suffering immensely from the pain he's caused the Cruz family," she wrote, "he doesn't believe he should be living and I fear he will end his life because of this accident."
Besides being a long-term alcoholic, it was revealed in court that Ruggerio has struggled with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders for most of his life, and was even hospitalized months before the incident for attempting to commit suicide. "I lived my life governed by fears and it cause me a lot of problems," said Ruggerio, "I'm not asking for sympathy for that, but I never wanted my problems to spill onto anybody else and cause more problems."
While Ruggerio says he has been sober since the incident and started working in an attempt to get on with his life, Cruz's family says theirs will never be the same, now that their loved one is gone.
Ruggerio was sentenced to 9 years behind bars, and Cruz's family says they hope he uses the time to work on himself and reflect on the pain he's caused. "May God forgive you Anthony for what you've done to my family," said Bermudez, "because at this time, I can't."
Ruggerio was also charged with a DWI seven months before the tragic accident. Upon his release from prison, he'll lose his license for two years and will have to have an ignition lock installed for three years once it's re-instated.