An interesting case from Albany, NY.
Woman sentenced in fatal accident
Updated: 8/16/2007 1:16:13 PM
By: Erin Billups
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Feura Bush woman who pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter in the death of a bicyclist last summer was sentenced Thursday morning. Darlene Kawczak, 52, was sentenced to six months in the Albany County jail.
Kawczak hit and killed Joel Melnikoff, 49, of Bethlehem as he rode his bicycle on July 3, 2006 along Route 32 in Bethlehem. She was charged with DWI and admitted to having several beers prior. But tests later showed it wasn't the alcohol that was the problem. She was under the influence of the sleeping pill, Ambien.
At Thursday's sentencing, the victim's family shared their pain through a statement read by a sergeant from Albany County's Stop DWI Program.
Sgt. Lenny Crouch said, "He didn't deserve to lose his life in this way from someone still in denial about the part she played in robbing my children of their father. And the system was sometimes more supportive of her than her victims."
Judge Stephen Herrick said he agrees with the Melnikoffs that Kawczak is in denial that she committed a crime.
In Kawczak's statement read by her lawyer, she apologized for what she referred to as a mistake.
Attorney Andrew Safranko said, "I feel you should know as a family that I never meant for any of this to happen. I would do anything humanly possible to take it back and give you the one thing your hearts ache for."
Because this is the first Ambien-related fatality in New York State, the judge, prosecutor and the victim's family thought it would be best to make an example of Kawczak, so it doesn't happen again.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Harris said, "With a jail sentence, with a term of probation, with a condition that this defendant speak to groups, speak out publicly about the dangers of taking this and driving, making them aware, I thought was the important message to get out."
Wife Susan Melnikoff said, "With her treatment she'll be able to share what she knows and pay it forward, prevent another accident like this from happening. That's what Joel would have known to be true."
Following her six-month sentence Kawczak will have five years probation and 160 hours of community service..
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