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LACK OF CHARGES DISPUTED IN AMHERST HIT-RUN DEATH

Amanda L. Hahn was struck and killed by a car early one morning last year when she stopped on the road to help an injured cat.

A witness told Amherst police a car, with its headlights off, came speeding along Sweet Home Road, ramming Hahn, who was bending over in the middle of the road to tend to the animal. The motorist then took off, leaving Hahn, an 18-year-old art student at Daemen College, in the street to die.

Forty-seven minutes later, the driver's father called 911 to report the accident. Police questioned the driver, a young Amherst woman, at her home. She denied speeding or driving without headlights. She said she panicked and left the scene because she wasn't sure what she had hit.

Eleven months after the fatality, no criminal charges have been filed, and authorities say charges are unlikely.

Did the driver -- Julie L. Mazur, now 20 -- get off easily? Was it a case of hit-and-run?

Law enforcement officials describe the case as a "very tough judgment call." But based on what they know about the accident, police do not think a crime was committed.

Hahn's mother, Yvonne J. Hahn, disagrees. She claims that police and prosecutors have been so considerate of Mazur's feelings that they seem to have forgotten another young woman was killed.

"The police and the district attorney keep telling me that Julie has been through enough, that it wouldn't be fair to put her through a criminal prosecution," Hahn said. "What about what happened to my daughter? All her hopes and dreams ended that night.

"There is no disputing she left the scene of a fatal accident, and that is a crime. They never even gave Julie a Breathalyzer or blood test to see if she had been drinking. Then, they concluded she had not been drinking. What kind of investigation is that?"

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark agreed this week to give the case "one last review" at Hahn's request. But Clark said he does not expect that the review will lead to charges against Mazur. Not filing charges in this case is a matter of "tempering justice with mercy," Clark said.

"I will be going over the entire case, all the facts, top to bottom," Clark said. "But at this point, I would be surprised if we decided to charge this young woman.

"Is there, technically, a case of leaving the scene of an accident here? Perhaps so. But is there any indication this driver had any criminal intent, or that she was drinking that night, or that she benefited in any way from leaving the scene? I don't see it."

Clark said he does not blame Hahn for feeling stronger action should be taken. "Her daughter has died, and she wants someone to go to jail for it. If I was in her place, if it was my child, I would feel exactly the same way," Clark said. "She's thinking as a parent. I'm thinking as a lawyer and a prosecutor."

These are some of the key facts of the case, drawn from police reports:

Early on the morning of Oct. 22, Amanda Hahn was riding in the car of her friend, Steven Tabbi, 19, when they spotted an injured cat lying near the middle of Sweet Home Road near Sheridan Drive. Hahn, an animal lover, told Tabbi to stop his car, and she quickly got out and began to check on the animal.

Tabbi told police Hahn, who was dressed entirely in black, was bending down to look at the cat when a car that "didn't have any headlights on" and "was going really fast for the street we were on" struck her, sending her flying through the air. She was hit at 12:54 a.m., and pronounced dead of head injuries less than an hour later.

Mazur continued to her home on Westfield Road. When she got there, she frantically told her parents she had struck something on the road. Her father, Donald Mazur, checked the car and then called 911, 47 minutes after the accident.

Julie Mazur told investigators at her home that she knew she struck "a big, black object" on the road and had tried her best to avoid it. "I thought to myself it must have been a person, but I also thought . . . why would a person be in the middle of the street at one o'clock in the morning. I still wasn't sure what I hit. I totally panicked," Mazur said.

Police did not ask Mazur to take breath or blood tests because they saw no physical indications she had been drinking. Mazur denied that she was speeding or driving without headlights turned on, and officers were unsure of the accuracy of Tabbi's information. Tests conducted on Mazur's car were inconclusive on whether the headlights were on.

Mazur had been visiting at a boyfriend's home before the accident. He told accident investigators the two had not been drinking or using drugs.

Tabbi told The Buffalo News last week that he has no doubt what he saw that night and cannot understand why police have not charged Mazur. "Yes, I'm quite sure of what I saw. Her headlights were off, (and) she was going excessively fast," Tabbi said. "If her headlights were on, she would have seen my friend and avoided her, regardless of what color clothing Amanda was wearing."

"After she hit Amanda, the driver hit her brakes, slowed down for a few seconds and then took off again," he said.

Tabbi said he has told Amherst police his story several times, and he believes police are ignoring what he has told them.

Yvonne Hahn, who has filed a $2 million negligence lawsuit against Julie Mazur, was reminded of her daughter's case by the recent storm of publicity over a hit-and-run fatality involving Drew V. Tidwell.

Tidwell left the scene after his car struck and fatally injured Donald Fruehauf, 68, on Getzville Road Aug. 17. He later turned himself in, pleading guilty to a charge that will send him to prison for at least eight months.

"People think Mr. Tidwell got a great plea deal. How about the deal Julie Mazur got?" Hahn asked. "All I want is a thorough investigation, and I want justice."

"A thorough investigation was conducted," replied Assistant Chief Ronald Hagelberger of the Amherst Police. "A very tough judgment call had to be made. Given all the facts of this case, we did not think there should be a criminal case, and neither did the district attorney.

"There's a big difference between this case and the Tidwell case. Tidwell was an experienced attorney who was knowledgeable in the law. Julie Mazur is just a kid who panicked. She and her family cooperated completely with the investigation. She gave a full statement that night, without asking for a lawyer to be present."

Under state law, a driver involved in an accident that has injured another person, or someone's property, should report it to police "as soon as physically able" to do so.

According to Clark, Mazur was so emotionally upset after the collision that it is debatable how soon she was physically able to call police.

Donald Mazur agrees. He said his daughter was extremely upset and had no calculated plan to avoid reporting the incident to police.

"People forget, there were two victims here," he said. "My family has also suffered a lot as a result of what happened that night."

According to Yvonne Hahn, an Amherst police investigator testified at a state Department of Motor Vehicles hearing on the case that no one had witnessed the accident. She said Julie Mazur was cleared of any wrongdoing at the hearing.

"I cannot understand why the officer would say that. They know very well that (Tabbi) was there that night. He gave them a statement," Hahn said. "It makes me wonder, why are the police protecting this girl?"

Hagelberger denied that Mazur received any special treatment in the case. He said he could not comment on the officer's testimony. He suggested possible confusion about the questions asked at the hearing.

Mazur, who did not return a call seeking her comment, was issued a speeding ticket in the Town of Tonawanda four months after the accident. She paid a $65 fine, after police caught her driving 45 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. She has an otherwise clean driving record, according to state records.

Clark said he agreed this week to take another look at the case because he still has some questions as to whether Mazur's headlights were on at the time of the accident.

"That is the one issue that I still have questions about in my mind," Clark said. "I'll talk to the investigating officers myself and decide where we're going with this case."

Hahn said some law enforcement officials have accused her of being "vindictive" and trying to use the criminal investigation to help her $2 million lawsuit against Mazur. "This isn't about money, because my daughter's life was not for sale," Hahn said."My daughter was a sweet, decent person who dreamed of being an artist. Her last act was stopping on the road to help a dying cat. That's the kind of person she was. Amanda deserved better than this."

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