Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 22, 2014

Drunken driver victim's family gains lawsuit settlement

BELLAIRE — Diane Shafer's family had to learn to live without her, and not by choice.

A drunken driver, Thomas Altobelli, 61, of Harrison Township, snatched Diane Shafer from her husband Paul and their three daughters in a snowy November 2012 crash along the Alba Highway in Antrim County.

Altobelli left the Central Lake family without the devoted mother who volunteered in their classrooms to stay close to her daughters, supported their forays into dance and cheerleading and took them Christmas shopping right before the crash.

Paul Shafer still can't put the loss into words. A judge approved a hefty lawsuit settlement last week, but Shafer is only glad his family's legal wranglings with Altobelli are finished.

"No amount of money could replace her," Paul Shafer said.

The Shafer family will receive more than $500,000 from Altobelli, an insurance company and an Alba bar in the settlement approved by 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power, said Paul Shafer's attorney George Thompson.

Thompson said the settlement closes a chapter on a "tragedy" that began when Altobelli got behind the wheel with a .23 blood-alcohol content, about three times the legal limit for driving, and smashed into the Shafers' minivan.

Diane Shafer lingered in a coma for two weeks before she died from her injuries on Dec. 7, 2012.

Altobelli eventually pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. He remains behind bars in Muskegon Heights' West Shoreline Correctional Facility, serving a 3- to 15-year sentence. His earliest potential release date is May 17, 2016.

The Shafers filed a personal injury lawsuit against Altobelli, a case that got off to a contentious start.

Altobelli's attorneys originally sought to dispute whether Altobelli's drunken actions made him liable for the crash, but they were too late in filing the necessary paperwork. Thompson also said Allstate Insurance officials originally claimed Altobelli only had $100,000 of coverage, a claim that later turned out to be false.

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