Calling it one of "the most senseless, tragic acts" she's ever come across, a Palm Beach County judge sentenced a 33-year-old Loxahatchee husband and father to five years in prison Wednesday for a 2014 wreck that killed his wife as they had sex while he drove drunk.
The sentence for Matthew Notebaert came just over three years after the death of his wife, Amanda, in a crash that left their two children without a mother and caused a deep rift between the couple’s families that even on Wednesday had her closest friends and relatives split into two camps.
Some, like Amanda Notebaert’s parents and grandmother, said her husband was to blame not just for the crash but for “taking bad advice” in the aftermath and alienating the couple’s two children from the loved ones of the woman he called his best friend.
Others, like the 31-year-old’s aunt and her closest friends, said the couple was madly in love until the moment Amanda Notebaert died, and she wouldn’t have wanted him to go to jail.
“I miss her more than words can express,” Matthew Notebaert had said of his wife during a tearful plea to Circuit Judge Laura Johnson.
Through his tears, Notebaert explained that he’d given his wife tickets to a concert as a Valentine’s Day present. The March 8, 2014, event had marked her first official night back out on the town after giving birth to their second child, a daughter they named Stacey in honor of the family name she proudly embraced from her adopted father.
They’d began drinking from a small flask of Crown Royal they snuck into the concert in her purse, he said, and as they headed back to the area of their Loxahatchee home they called friends looking to hang out but at one point pulled over and became intimate.
By the time he drove on Southern Boulevard, Notebaert said, his wife was sitting in his lap, and his next memory after a turn of the wheel was waking up in a crashed car next to her body.
Investigators say Notebaert turned onto East Stallion Drive at about 12:30 a.m. and drove the couple’s Chevrolet Equinox at speeds of 55 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone, blowing three red posted signs on the dirt road warning of a canal ahead.
The couple’s car hit the canal back so hard, according to arrest reports, the SUV went airborne for 30 feet and came to rest on the opposite bank of the canal. Amanda Notebaert’s head hit the dashboard and windshield. She died at the scene.
A toxicology report from after the crash placed Matthew Notebaert’s blood alcohol content was nearly twice the level at which Florida drivers are presumed impaired, and investigators said he also had marijuana in his system.
Relatives on Wednesday described Amanda Notebaert as a loving wife, mother, friend, niece, daughter, and granddaughter who lived to celebrate holidays like Easter and Halloween between treasured vacations with her family.
Her grandmother remembered their time-honored pastime of “doing lunch” in Boca Raton, a heartfelt tradition they started from when Amanda was a little girl. An aunt, who testified on Matthew Notebaert’s behalf because she left that’s what his wife would have wanted, said she remembered her eight-year-old niece calling 911 in hopes of reaching her after the little girl learned she worked in law enforcement.
Lisa and Mike Stacey, the woman’s parents, expressed pain and anger at Notebaert for restricting their time with their grandchildren since their daughter died.
“You had a responsibility to get your wife home safely,” Amanda’s father, Mike Stacey, told Notebaert before asking Johnson to give his son-in-law the “maximum allowable sentence.”
But even prosecutors said under the circumstances, the 10-year minimum recommended sentence under sentencing guidelines was too harsh.
Notebaert’s attorney, Stephen Bell, had asked for no jail time at all, hoping Johnson would award Notebaert a probation sentence and keep him with the couple’s now 12-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
Assistant State Attorney Danielle Sherriff, on the other hand, echoed Stacey’s sentiments and said Notebaert bares the blame because he was driving. The sheriff said a prison sentence was necessary and asked for a seven-year term.
In the end, Johnson noted Notebaert’s criminal history, saying he in the past has been accused of reckless driving and leaving the scene of a crash. Notebaert’s list of prior cases includes five felonies, Johnson said, and a prosecutor at his May 2014 bail hearing listed previous charges that included cocaine possession, burglary, and grand theft.
“This isn’t your first chance. You’ve been to jail before, you’ve been on probation,” Johnson said, adding: “You failed your wife, you failed your children, and you failed all your family that is here today.”