Just after 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 12, 2020, as the sun was setting on another summer weekend in the Northwoods, a gray Acura raced down State Highway 70 in Minocqua en route to Lac du Flambeau. This was the final ride of Cory L. Johnson Sr.’s life. Moments later, as twilight descended, the 47-year-old Stevens Point man would be thrown from the Acura, which was traveling at an estimated 103 to 110 miles per hour. According to court records, the vehicle briefly went airborne before striking an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot of a Minocqua restaurant. A teenage busboy was the first to respond, unbuckling the driver, Christopher A. Gore, also of Stevens Point, and offering aid before police arrived.
Gore had consumed at least six drinks that evening while visiting three different local establishments. According to the state crime lab, his blood alcohol level was .239, three times the legal limit.
In November, Gore, now 38, entered a no contest plea to one count of homicide by use of a motor vehicle with a prohibited blood alcohol content, a Class D felony. 
After hearing emotional statements from family and friends of both men Tuesday morning, Vilas County circuit judge Martha Milanowski, presiding in Oneida County, sentenced Gore to a total of 10 years, five years confinement to be followed by five years extended supervision.
Milanowski noted that while the presumptive mandatory minimum sentence for homicide by use of a motor vehicle with a prohibited blood alcohol content is five years, judges have the option to order a shorter sentence if they can identify a “compelling” reason.
Defense attorney Dennis Melowski suggested that Gore’s spotless record, he hadn’t had so much as a traffic offense before that summer evening in 2020, and the fact that Gore and Johnson were friends drinking together could be considered compelling. 
Milanowski was unswayed.
“The most compelling part of this case is the death of another human being, Corey Johnson Sr., the dangerously high blood alcohol concentration and the horrifically high rate of speed at which the defendant operated his vehicle,” she said, at one point noting that she was unaware of the speed calculations until the hearing.
“Your friends speak of your good character,” she noted, addressing Gore. “Where was your character on July 12, 2020? If only we could answer that, because it certainly wasn’t there. You showed horrible character that evening when you got into the vehicle not one, not two but three times after having been at not one or two but three bars, according to the complaint and the investigation, each time choosing to drive after you had consumed alcohol. You had three chances to decide, ‘I’ve had enough, let’s figure out another option.’ So, while you have seemingly very good character generally, certainly there was a huge turn off that path on July 12, 2020.”
Indeed, members of Gore’s family, as well as a close friend, described him in glowing terms, noting his loyalty, compassion, dependability, work ethic and willingness to help others. 
“If the measure of a man is how he responds to adversity, then my son is a much better man than me,” his father told the court. “I believe he has fully accepted that he made a terrible decision that day that cost his friend his life. He put himself in that position and he has only himself to blame.”
Given his chance to speak, Gore tearfully apologized to the Johnson family, offering specific words of remorse to his friend’s wife and son. 
“I?take full responsibility for my actions and will face the consequences for those actions,” he said, adding that he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since the accident occurred.
Four members of Johnson’s family addressed the court to provide victim impact statements. Each described a larger than life, utterly unforgettable man who loved his wife “like you only see in the movies” and whose life ended just as he was coming in to his own. 
His nephew, who is only a few years younger and considered him to be both a brother and uncle, said he still expects to see his uncle come down the drive to visit his Northwoods cabin. 
“Uncle Corey was the smile that lit up a room and the arms that were there to help when needed,” he said.
Johnson’s sister-in-law described the anguish of watching her sister’s suffering following the sudden loss of her husband. She also referenced the concept of choices and consequences.
“The defendant chose to break the law. He drove drunk and is responsible for killing someone,” she said. “His punishment is incarceration. Corey chose to trust the defendant with his life, chose him to drive. Corey’s consequence was death.”
Corey Johnson Jr. told the court he and his father were just hitting their stride as father and son when his life was cut short. 
“My father and I?had so much left to do,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with a thousand pages and the last 500 pages are completely blank, right when the story was getting pretty dang good.”
Corey’s wife, Stephanie Johnson, said her life “froze” when officers came to her door to notify her that her husband had been killed. She spoke of the agony of watching others, the entire world, move forward while she spends every day grappling with the monumental task of learning how to live with loss. Every aspect of her life has been altered and nothing will ever be the same. 
“On Dec. 20 (Corey) would have turned 50,” she said. “We would have been enjoying a trip, a celebration, but instead I?visited him at the cemetery. When you love someone you give them your soul, so when they die a piece of you dies with them. I will never get that back, but I will always treasure the piece of his soul he left behind with me.”
After pronouncing sentence, Milanowski told Gore he will have the rest of life to figure out how to make better decisions and to “live your life in a way that honors the memory of Corey Johnson Sr. and honors his family and friends.”
She then repeated a statement made by Corey Jr. earlier in the hearing.
“I hope you take this sentence and find a way to be better from it. I?hope the day you get released you see the world as a blank sheet, a blank sheet filled with endless opportunities to do better. Your life is now all about how you respond. I challenge you to find a higher purpose within all of this.”
Gore was then remanded into custody to begin serving his sentence.
Heather Schaefer may be reached at [email protected]