After the initial shock of a drunk driving crash, one of the hardest things a family has to deal with is the court process. There can often be delays before charges are even brought against an offender, as law enforcement works to gather evidence and build a strong case. Then the judicial process itself can be long and frustrating. Each stage – Grand Jurys, Arraignments, Plea Hearings, Trials, Sentencings – is another time to relive the nightmare, the pain, and the loss. Most families breathe a sigh of relief once the offender is sentenced – even if they are disappointed with the outcome – just thankful that it is finally over.
But for one Tennessee family, something nearly unheard of happened.
Bob Benedict had never met a stranger. He was very outgoing and could make anyone laugh. He loved cars and motorcycles. He loved to hop on his 2006 American Ironhorse bike, even just for a short ride. Riding it was a sort of therapy to him. He also loved college sports, especially football.
He was a devoted husband and father. His wife, Lisa, and their only daughter, Reagan, were his life and his heart! He always said if he had them, he didn’t need anything else! One of his favorite things was spending time with Reagan, taking her to softball practice and games. He never missed anything in which she was involved.
On May 21, 2016, Bob and Lisa beamed as Reagan graduated from high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Lisa says Bob was such a proud dad! He and Reagan had worked very hard together to successfully get her a softball scholarship to college! Their baby was on her way with a very good future ahead of her. After the ceremony and celebrating as a family, Reagan went out with friends and Lisa headed to work, 25 miles away in Dalton, Georgia. Bob headed out for a relaxing bike ride.
Little did he know that Henry Cofrancesco, who was drinking at Images Nightclub on Lee Highway, had just gotten into a fight with his girlfriend. Cofrancesco left the club and got into his 2015 BMW Convertible that was parked facing the highway. But instead of driving to the marked exit and leaving the parking lot where one might expect traffic to enter the highway, he simply drove straight ahead – jumping the curb and driving over the sidewalk – onto the highway and directly into the path of Bob Benedict, leaving Bob no chance to get out of the way. Bob was struck and lay dying in the road. Witnesses say Cofrancesco got out of his vehicle, walked around for a minute, and did the unthinkable. Instead of calling for help for the man he had hit, he turned and went back into the bar!
Bob was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Lisa says she doesn’t remember much about that horrific night – the night that started with so much promise and celebration for good things to come. She remembers feeling immediately overcome when she got the news – like her heart was being ripped from her chest. She was in shock, but had to force her brain to kick into gear and start making decisions about what to do next even though she still had no clue of what really had happened. First – their daughter. Lisa had to go and get their daughter from her graduation party with her friends to tell her that her dad had just died. She had to start letting people know and start making so many decisions when all she could think was “I just want my “Bob” to come back and be with me.”
Cofrancesco was arrested and later charged with vehicular homicide, possession of cocaine, failure to yield to right of way, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to render aid, and driving under the influence. He had been unwilling to cooperate with police when arrested, but a search warrant revealed that his blood alcohol level, tested over 2 hours after the crash, was .262 – over 3 times the legal limit. It was his first DUI arrest.
Cofrancesco pleaded guilty to Vehicular Homicide and Enhanced DUI on April 3, 2017. The other charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement. On July 21, Judge Don Poole sentenced him to nine years. He would be eligible for parole in three. Though the sentence did not feel like justice to the Benedict family – nine years with the very real possibility that this first time offender would only actually serve three years for killing their beloved husband and father – at least it was over. They could begin to heal and try to put their lives back together.
However, in an unprecedented move, AFTER the offender was sentenced and scheduled to report to jail, the judge agreed to go back to court and RECONSIDER the sentence! So Bob Benedict’s family was BACK in a court room on August 21 because they were notified that instead of reporting to jail to begin serving his term as scheduled as he had been scheduled to do on that very day, Cofrancesco would be appearing in court. They showed up, to make sure the judge had not forgotten the victim in this despicable crime, yet there was some sort of miscommunication with Confrancesco and his attorney, so the offender and his defense never showed. The re-sentencing hearing was rescheduled for August 29. The family will have to do it all again.
Lisa and Reagan’s lives have been turned upside down. Reagan, had gone away to college in Florida on the softball scholarship that she and her dad had worked so hard to get, but because of what she had just been through with losing her dad, she just couldn’t handle being away from home. She gave up her scholarship and came home. Lisa knows that Reagan worries constantly about her and she suspects that Reagan worries about things that she never tells her about. “We have now got her going to school nearby so we’re hoping she is on the right track now.”
But Reagan is not the only one with new anxieties. Lisa says after they lost Bob, “I immediately had to start worrying about finances and college and the future all while being thrown into this situation that we didn’t ask for, all because of someone else’s horrible choices! I am having to work harder and longer to make ends meet. It’s very difficult when you are thrown into having to be the mother and the father and the person responsible for making sure everything is done. I worry every single day about the future and my daughter and myself.”
She says, “Going through the whole court process has been very difficult and that hasn’t helped. It has made the grieving process even harder.” Still not knowing what the August 29 court date to reconsider sentencing would bring, Lisa talks about how frustrated they are. There is “still no finality in sight for the defendant to be behind bars where he deserves which makes me feel like I’ve let Bob down in some way.” To her, it doesn’t come close to justice. “My husband deserved the defendant’s respect that night while he was laying out in the street dying. He didn’t get that at all from him (the defendant.)…he deserves the courts to give him the respect that this drunk driver couldn’t give him!”
Lisa fondly remembers Bob’s smile and all the facial expressions he made, how he always made her smile even when she was trying hard not to. They were married just short of 29 years and had been together for 34. “It is extremely hard to learn to do life without my best friend. My husband was a great person, a great husband and father. We love and miss him more and more every day. We already miss the things that he won’t get to do with us even before they have happened. He was everything to me and I hope he is proud of how we are handling things and I hope he sees how hard we are trying to get justice for him! He is and will always be missed and loved by every inch of my heart!”