A local war veteran was sentenced today for admittedly driving drunk in a crash that killed a 29-year-old Camden County man.
The accident happened on Route 41 in Deptford on March 19, 2011. Investigators say Rene Berben, 26, of Deptford, was drunk when his Ford truck struck a Nissan sedan driven by Steven Kennedy of Runnemede. While in court, Kennedy’s father told the sentencing judge his son was at the wheel as a designated driver for two passengers inside his car. While the passengers survived, Kennedy was trapped inside his vehicle and died at the scene.
Police say Berben’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was .342, more than four times the legal limit in New Jersey. On May 21, Berben pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, assault by auto and driving while intoxicated.
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During his guilty plea, authorities say Berben admitted he had drank “ten or more” drinks at a Williamstown bar before driving. On Friday he was sentenced to six years in New Jersey state prison.
Berben is a U.S. Army recruiter and Afghan War combat veteran, according to his lawyer. He is currently in the process of being discharged from the Army. During today’s court appearance, Berben apologized to Kennedy’s family and “everybody in the courtroom.”
In addition to the six-year prison sentence, Berben also received a concurrent year-long prison sentence for assault by auto, a $300 drunk-driver fine and a seven-month driver’s license suspension after his release from prison. He must serve 85 percent of the six-year term before he is eligible for parole.
About a dozen relatives and friends of Kennedy attended today’s sentencing wearing t-shirts in memory of the victim. Kennedy’s father told the Superior Court Judge, “we have a lifetime of sorry without Steve.” He also thanked the judge and Assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor for, “keeping the case orderly and moving forward.”