It was an important phone call for Linda Dziedzic, but now she has doubts about what the prosecuting attorney in Lonoke County, Ark., told her.
The driver who crashed his SUV into her husband, Charles Dziedzic, killing him instantly in 2012, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in jail, the prosecuting attorney told her at the end of September.
"That was the end, the phone call we've been waiting for," she said.
But court records showed the driver, James Hearon, was not sentenced to jail time. He was sentenced to 12 months probation. The Arkansas Department of Correction's online database shows no record of Hearon ever being an inmate in the state.
Hearon's defense attorney said in an interview his client received no jail time, and is not facing other charges. He pleaded guilty to negligent homicide instead of a more serious charge of manslaughter.
The crash was a tragic and horrible accident, the attorney, Mike Sutterfield, said.
"I know his family prays for his (Dziedzic's) family every day," he said.
Charles Dziedzic, a 59-year-old Morris Plains resident and the deputy director for Chatham's DPW, was returning from a cross country motorcycle trip with Chatham Borough's administrator, Robert Falzarano, and his brother, George. The brothers were hospitalized for weeks before being released.
The friends were stopped in traffic on I-40 in Arkansas for a separate accident when the crash occurred. The black box for Hearon's SUV indicated he was traveling 70 mph and 69 mph in the seconds before impact and did not apply the brakes.
Tests showed Hearon was not drinking alcohol and he denied using his cell phone at the time of the accident.
Sutterfield said the accident occurred when Hearon switched lanes without realizing he was turning into stopped traffic. He said Hearon, a Ward, Ark., resident, is religious, married, and has adopted children, some of whom have disabilities. His church supported him through the legal process, Sutterfield said.
Ben Hooper, the prosecuting attorney for the Lonoke County Prosecutor's Office who handled the case, called Linda Dziedzic about the sentencing last month, and she shared the news with family members and people who worked with her husband.
More than a week later, Linda Dziedzic and people she had talked to about the sentencing were surprised and confused to see news reports saying Hearon was sentenced to probation. Dziedzic called Hooper to confirm Hearon was sentenced to jail time. Hooper told her Hearon was in jail, she said, and she tried to have the news reports corrected.
Reached by phone, Hooper indicated the news report wasn't accurate and he would provide the correct information, but he would not provide specific information at the time and he did not return messages this week.
Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham also has not yet returned messages.
Linda Dziedzic said she has left messages for them and hopes to hear back.
Robert Falzarano declined to comment on the sentencing and George Falzarano could not be reached for comment.
Sutterfield said Hearon "is deeply sorry that this incident ever took place" and deeply affected by the horror of what happened.
"I know it's very little comfort," Sutterfield said.
As part of the sentence, Hearon cannot contact Linda Dziedzic, or Robert or George Falzarano. He was fined $1,500, the sentencing order says.
Linda Dziedzic said the prosecutor's office told her at one point that Hearon wanted to contact her about what happened, but she did not want to speak with him.
Since the accident, Dziedzic has moved to Springfield from Morris Plains. On April 23, the one-year anniversary of her husband's death, she and her daughters visited where the accident occurred.
"We felt it was something we had to do," she said. "We were hoping it would give us some sort of closure, but it didn't."
A relative who was battling cancer died the same day, which meant "our hearts … were back here in Jersey."
During the visit, she met people she had been dealing with over the phone. Dziedzic said it was nice to meet and thank them, and to see the highway.
"It gave us a sense of what really happened, but it didn't give us closure," she said. "I'm glad we went. It was something we needed to do, but it was hard."
Her husband, she said, "went away on vacation and didn't come back."
State troopers accompanied them when they placed a memorial at the crash site.
"We had gotten a plaque that said 'Life is a highway,' 'Ride with the angels,' his name and the date of the accident.
"It was a sunny day. I know he was with us when we were doing it."
She said her husband loved the song "Life is a Highway," and their grandson sings it.
When she and her daughters heard Hearon was sentenced to jail time, there was a feeling of "at least some justice for this horrible tragedy," Dziedzic said.
It would not bring her husband back, or bring relief, but whether the sentence was 22 years, or five years or six months, they knew the driver didn't walk free.
She heard there was a jail sentence on the initial call from Hooper, and later reconfirmed the information with him.
"Now I have doubts," she said.