ITHACA, N.Y. – About a dozen officers were called to the Tompkins County courthouse Friday after a teen was sentenced for driving a vehicle under the influence of marijuana and speeding, resulting in a rollover crash that killed a passenger in the vehicle.

Naeem Clark, 20, was sentenced to one to three years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter in June. Brianna D. Copes, 18, died instantly in the crash, officials said.

“We weren’t allowed to have an open casket and we’ll never see her face again. So all we have is my sister in a box,” said Syletha Jones, during a victim impact statement.

She said Clark did not dial 911 after the crash and that his demeanor in other court appearances – making jokes or laughing with his lawyer – was a sign that Clark was not remorseful for Copes’ death.

“You never once apologized to my mother,” Jones said. “You have been selfish and inconsiderate of taking another human being’s life.”

She said she remembers when her sister was chubby baby in the crib. Copes, she said, could be the light in the darkest cave.

Throughout the reading, family members wearing purple and T-shirts with Copes’ photo on them, audibly cried and wiped tears away.

Assistant District Attorney Eliza Filipowski said the victim’s family has been through so much and was generous to allow such a minimal sentence to even be offered in the case.

Clark, she said, has never taken full responsibility for his actions.

Attorney Seth Peacock apologized to the victim’s family for any actions that were inadvertently disrespectful to them. He said he recommended Clark not talk to the family due to legal reasons, but that his client was deeply remorseful for what happened that night.

“There’s certain cases that leave a hole in this community, and this is definitely one of them,” Peacock said.

When Clark spoke at sentencing, he walked to the podium turned directly to Copes’ mother and family, and apologized for the role he played that night.

“I’m so sorry, man. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her or think about how you feel about me,” Clark said.

He noted that he lost his own younger sister in a crash several years ago and knows what the pain feels like to lose somebody.

He then turned toward his family and crying said, “I’ll never forget about y’all. I’ll never forget about Brianna…She’s always in my head.”

After Clark was lead away in handcuffs, about 50 people left the courtroom and several people broke into a loud verbal argument – some shoving each other and some rushing to get away — in stairwell.

Court officers were able to break up the groups and ushered people out of the courthouse.

On the courthouse steps outside, people continued yelling at each other, screaming about their losses and – in some instances – trying to apologize for what happened.

Court officers, Ithaca police and Tompkins County Sheriff deputies were called to the scene to break-up the escalating tensions. No arrests were made.

Featured photo by Brian Turner of Flickr. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.