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Drunk Driver Connors Gets 16 Months in Tragic Crash : Courts: Victim shakes hands with the ex-football hero after making an emotional speech about his disfigurement and lost abilities.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the end of an emotional hearing Friday, a judge sentenced former high school football hero Ryan Patrick Connors to 16 months in prison for a 1993 drunk-driving crash that disfigured a music student and ruined his singing voice.

Superior Court Judge Shari Kreisler Silver said she agonized over the sentence, calling it “the most difficult sentencing decision I’ve had to make in the five years I’ve been a judge.”

Prosecutor Stephen A. Baron had sought a two-year sentence. Defense attorney Thomas F. Kascoutas had asked for probation.

Silver found the middle ground. She also gave Connors, a 20-year-old former Hart High School star quarterback, until Sept. 6 to surrender. Connors, who said he hopes to work for the FBI someday, pleaded no contest last month to one count of causing great bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol.

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Friday’s hearing featured a compelling statement from victim Gregory Moore, 33, and a courtroom apology from Connors. It ended with a handshake between the two.

“It was an acceptance and an offer to him that I’m available for his apologies,” Moore said later. “I want him to know that I feel that we’re both a part of this story.”

Silver said that as she weighed Connors’ otherwise clean record against the damage he’d caused, her thoughts kept returning to Moore’s loss.

A graduate student in music at CalArts in Valencia, Moore had been accepted to study in France as a composer in residence.

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“No amount of money will make him whole again,” she said. “He will never again have what he had before the impact. That life is forever gone.”

Witnesses told police that the head-on collision between the borrowed Mercedes convertible Connors was driving and Moore’s subcompact was like an explosion, prosecutor Baron said.

Defense attorneys disputed the notion that Connors was drag-racing at the time of the accident, which occurred July 23, 1993. But Baron said it was clear he was under the influence of alcohol and passing illegally at high speed when he crossed into Moore’s lane.

When paramedics arrived at the scene on San Fernando Road near the Circle J Ranch in Newhall, they thought Moore was dead, Baron said. He was trapped in the twisted wreckage of his car, a pool of blood forming under its frame, his face flattened by the impact.

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Two hours after the accident, Connors’ blood-alcohol level was 0.08%--the level at which a driver is presumed to be intoxicated in California.

Reading from a seven-page statement, Moore asked the judge to sentence Connors to two years in prison. He catalogued his injuries and described how the crash had destroyed his sinuses, and therefore his classically trained singing voice. He said it has left him disfigured and impotent.

“I have not yet met the love of my life,” he said, saying that he had put his career and studies first.

“Now I wish I hadn’t delayed. This past year I have craved love. I’ve wanted someone’s arms around me. Just some comfort. It’s difficult because I don’t feel so ugly on the inside.”

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Ever since the head-on collision fractured his face and dashed his dreams, Moore said the focus always has been on Connors, the fallen football hero.

“The newspapers all mentioned Ryan Connors’ football scores, but none of them mentioned my scores,” he said.

“I am a composer.”

Moore had visited a friend to celebrate his acceptance in a French composer-in-residence program and was on his way home when the crash occurred. He woke up a month later in the hospital, unable to speak.

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More than $500,000 in medical bills later, he faces continual surgery, his movement is limited and he suffers from permanent double-vision. “I want back my face,” he said. “I don’t want these plastic teeth. I want all of my sinuses back, sinuses that rang so brightly when I sang. I want a forehead and eye sockets and nose and jaw that are not made of titanium. I want back my good fingers, and my arm that could reach all the bass notes on the piano. God, I want back my music!”

He then directed his words to Connors. “Understand my injuries,” Moore said. “Understand how I feel when they roll me into the operating room at UCLA, to see the walls of that huge, antiseptic, terrifying room papered over with enlarged, gridded photographs of me, pictures of my good face, my pre-Ryan Connors face, all sealed with sterile plastic, there for the surgeons to study during the 12-hour operation.

“I need you to try and understand how it feels to recover from that surgery, and still be deformed.”

A few minutes later, Connors stood up in court, turned toward Moore and apologized.

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“I know I ruined your life and this will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Connors said, as Moore nodded. “I just want you to know that I am very sorry for what I have done.”

As the hearing ended, Connors and Moore shook hands. Outside the courtroom afterward, Moore said he was satisfied with the sentence, although he wished it had included community service.

“I’m really hopeful that he’s willing to turn his life around,” Moore said. “It’s very important to me that he stand and face whatever the law requires because he forced me to stand and face what I’ve had to when I look in the mirror.”


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