A former "Melrose Place" actress who was driving drunk when her SUV plowed into another car, killing a woman, was convicted Tuesday of vehicular homicide and jailed after her bail was revoked. She was acquitted of a more serious charge of aggravated manslaughter.
Amy Locane-Bovenizer, 40, had sought to shift blame for the fatal accident to a third motorist whose car she had rear-ended and who had been pursuing the actress, and also to the husband of the car accident victim for making what witnesses said was a slow turn in front of her SUV.
But the conviction on a charge of death by auto, also known as vehicular homicide, was as a matter of law a "rejection of that defense," Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Murphy said following the verdict.
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Locane-Bovenizer's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit when the crash occurred in 2010 on a dark two-lane road in Montgomery Township, in central New Jersey, according to evidence presented at the trial.
The defense did not dispute she was drunk, arguing only that she should not be held criminally responsible.
Locane-Bovenizer, who did not testify at the trial, appeared in 13 episodes of TV's "Melrose Place" and in movies including "Cry-Baby," ''School Ties" and "Secretary."
She faces five to 10 years in prison on the vehicular homicide count and must serve a minimum of 85 percent of that sentence without parole. She also faces three to five years in prison for her conviction on a second count of assault by auto, which stemmed from injuries she caused the husband of the woman killed in the crash. Sentencing was set for March 1; motor vehicle charges are also pending.
Helene Seeman, 60, was killed in the accident, and her husband, Fred Seeman, was seriously injured. He was turning their car into their driveway when Locane-Bovenizer's SUV slammed into them.
"This is a sad day for the Seeman Family. There were no winners declared by the verdict. There are only losers," Murphy said. "A husband lost his dear wife; his two children lost their mother; and Helene's mother lost her daughter. That loss can never be rectified by a verdict."
The trial began in early October, with more than 50 witnesses taking the stand. Murphy said the Somerset County prosecutor's office was committed to spend "whatever public funds were necessary to match the financial resources available to the defense team."
To prove her guilty of aggravated manslaughter, the prosecution had to show Locane-Bovenizer not only caused Seeman's death, but also that she did so under circumstances showing extreme indifference to human life and by acting recklessly.
A mother of two living in Hopewell Township and acting in community theater, Locane-Bovenizer had begun drinking the night of the accident at a cast party, testimony showed. Witnesses said she also drank at a barbecue she later attended with her family before leaving on her own.
The defense sought to place much of the blame on the accident on the third motorist, Maureen Ruckelshaus, who was pursuing Locane-Bovenizer after being rear-ended.
Ruckelshaus said she had told the clearly intoxicated driver to turn off her SUV, but that the woman drove off.
"I knew how drunk she was," Ruckelshaus testified. "My reaction was, 'Oh my God, I have to figure out a way to get her to pull over.'"
The defense portrayed Ruckelshaus as a vigilante who frightened the former actress by trying to grab her keys from the ignition and then giving chase. The defense said Locane-Bovenizer even offered Ruckelshaus her cellphone to call police.
Ruckelshaus denied reaching in for the keys. "I said, 'I don't want your cellphone. ... I want you to turn your car off,'" she testified.
Ruckelshaus followed the former actress for about four miles, with both going about the speed limit of 35 mph for most of the way until a car in front of them moved out of the way and Locane-Bovenizer accelerated to more than 50 mph just prior to the crash, according to evidence presented at the trial.