Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

December 22, 2013

Newsmakers: Man behind bars for Central Lake woman's death

EDITOR'S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.

BELLAIRE — Thomas Altobelli stood in an Antrim County courtroom and spoke of his remorse for causing a head-on crash that killed a Central Lake woman.

In May, a judge handed Altobelli, 61, of Harrison Township, a 3- to 15-year sentence after he pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. The family of Diane Shafer, 37, once took some small solace in Altobelli's apology, but that changed when the case shifted from criminal to civil court.

Altobelli's stance moved from remorse to denial when his insurance company became involved in the Shafer family's civil lawsuit.

"I know that the family is a little bit confused by his actions," said attorney George Thompson, who represents Shafer's family. "When he spoke at the sentencing he expressed tremendous remorse, but his actions with the insurance company defense attorneys are not consistent with that."

Diane Shafer died from injuries she received in a two-vehicle crash on Nov. 23, 2012. The devoted mother was a fixture of the Central Lake community who worked and volunteered in the local school system in order to spend more time with her three daughters.

Shafer, her husband Paul Shafer and two of their three daughters spent their last day together Christmas shopping before driving through wintry weather back to Central Lake. James Rossiter, then-assistant prosecutor for Antrim County, said he remembers Paul Shafer recounted he told his daughter that it was the "kind of weather you had to be careful in."

"Then all the sudden they come over a hill and there's a truck in their lane and there's the crash," Rossiter said. "It was the day after Thanksgiving. It turned the whole season for them topsy-turvy."

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