Backstory: Victim’s sister gives emotional testimony in South Hadley wrongful death case

Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — Kerry Kareta broke down in tears on the witness stand Tuesday afternoon as she recalled getting the news of her 22-year-old brother’s death after he was struck by a drunken driver on the lawn of his aunt’s house in South Hadley.

She said she was returning to the area from Boston on Aug. 28, 2010, to celebrate recent graduations by her and her brother. But as she was getting off the Massachusetts turnpike, she said she received a call from her mother telling her to meet the family at Holyoke Medical Center.

Kerry Kareta was the final witness in the wrongful death civil trial of Craig Barton, a former juvenile court attorney who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and other charges in September 2011 in connection with the death of Frederick “Joey” Kareta III, 22, of Westfield.

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Kerry Kareta said because she and her older brother were born about 16 months apart, they were exceptionally close and often gathered with family to celebrate holidays and milestones.

Through tears, she said that, after her brother’s death, she knew there would not be a celebration that Christmas, so instead, she created a book collecting photographs of Joey growing up for her parents.

Since then, she has also helped organize scholarship fundraisers in honor of her brother. “It’s a nice way to try to keep his memory alive,” she said.

Barton, 46, of Springfield, represented himself in the trial, which began Monday in Hampshire Superior Court before Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder. Barton rested his case Tuesday without calling any witnesses.

He presented a brief closing statement to the jury of eight women and six men, admitting he had taken the life of a “much loved individual” and he would be “eternally sorrowful for that action.”

Barton said regardless of what decision the jury made, at the conclusion of the trial, he would go back to prison to finish his five- to seven-year sentence and try to put his life and law practice back in order when he is eventually released.

“At the time of my release, you’ll be looking at a then-51-year-old individual who’s divorced, with two years of probation remaining and no place to go,” he said. “Not the ideal resume.”

Attorney John Ross of Springfield, representing the Kareta family, told the jury that Barton had already pleaded guilty to criminal charges of motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of alcohol, a second offense of operating under the influence and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

Ross said Kareta had gone to work earlier that day, done yard work for his great-uncle and was retrieving mail from his aunt’s mailbox on Brainerd Street in South Hadley at the moment Barton lost control of his car.

“What a terrible string of luck,” Ross said.

Ross said Barton was traveling about 80 mph in a 30 mph zone and struck Kareta hard enough to knock him out of his sneakers and send his body flying 109 feet, before continuing down the road, taking out a row of mailboxes, hitting a traffic sign and striking another car.

“I would suggest he doesn’t even know he hit this poor kid” despite blood on his windshield and bumper, Ross said.

“His conduct that day was atrocious,” Ross said. “Joe Kareta should never, ever, ever have been killed that day.”

The family is seeking unspecified damages. Jurors will receive instructions and begin deliberations Wednesday morning.

Bob Dunn can be reached at


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