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MAN SPARED JAIL IN FATAL DWI ACCIDENT

A judge Wednesday spared a Hamburg man from going to jail, but sentenced him to six months of house arrest and ordered him to pay $12,416 to the widow of a motorcyclist killed in a drunken-driving accident.

Robert M. Hebner, 34, who was involved in the Sept. 29, 1995 accident on Big Tree Road in Hamburg, said:

"I wish I had died."

Robert J. Esch, 42, was fatally injured when Hebner made a turn at Richcrest Drive in front of Esch's oncoming motorcycle about 6 p.m. Esch was riding his new motorcycle for the first time to the Orchard Park home he and his wife had moved into the week before.

Hebner pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills to reduced charges of criminally negligent homicide and driving while alcohol-impaired. Hebner had been indicted for vehicular manslaughter but has been free on his own recognizance and has had friends driving him to his steamfitter's job.

The judge denied a request from the victim's widow, Margaret Esch, 45, to send Hebner to jail. But the judge imposed house arrest on Hebner for the next six months and ordered him to use and pay for electronic monitoring devices during that time.

Hebner will be permitted to go to work or court-related testing or counseling sessions.

The judge, saying he was trying to "balance" the need to punish Hebner and help the victim's widow, also ordered Hebner to perform 400 hours of community service at area hospitals and attend a crime victims impact panel discussion.

Tills also suspended Hebner's driver's license for five years, ordered him to join Alcoholics Anonymous and submit to and personally pay for substance abuse testing and any counseling he is ordered to receive.

Tills warned him that if he violates any of the probation mandates, he will be sentenced to a prison term of 16 months to four years, the maximum term for negligent homicide.

Hebner rejected the judge's offer for a brief prison term, noting his wife is about to give birth to their third child.

In the courtroom, Hebner apologized to Mrs. Esch and told her his lawyers had barred him from contacting her before the sentencing. He told Mrs. Esch he prays daily for both families.

Attorney Phillip A. Thielman said Mrs. Esch was too upset to speak at the sentencing.

"She's hurt and her hurt will last for the rest of her life," Thielman said.

Thielman said the restitution, which Hebner must pay at a rate of at least $260 a month until October 2000, will only compensate Mrs. Esch for her husband's funeral and estate-closing costs.

Thielman said he plans a lawsuit against the bars where Hebner was drinking before the crash.

Thielman disputed claims by Michael P. Caffery, Hebner's attorney, that alcohol was not a major factor in the accident. Thielman said blood tests taken later the day of the crash showed Hebner had a blood-alcohol level of .10 percent, which was probably higher at the time of the accident.

Caffery said Hebner only had "several beers" before the crash, passed three of four field sobriety tests police administered at the crash scene, wasn't speeding or driving recklessly and didn't try to flee the scene.

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