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Boy, 14, killed on bike by hit-run driver; Witness Finds, Nabs Suspect Vehicular manslaughter, DWI charges are lodged

Another teenager is dead and another adult who should have known better stands accused of driving drunk and then fleeing from the scene.

This time the tragic tale is set in Lancaster, where 14-year-old Bryce W. Buchholz of Elma died Thursday night after he was struck by an SUV.

The Lancaster Middle School student was headed home on his favorite orange bike after riding with friends in the village, when he was hit and left on the side of Lake Avenue.

Lancaster police said the man behind the wheel was Michael C. Ettipio, 23, of Lancaster who was driving home after allegedly drinking six beers at a local tavern.

He was located because a witness tracked him down to the driveway of his family's home, put him into his own car and made him return to the scene of the crash, authorities said.

"I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and said: Let's go," Benny Kirkland, 40, told The Buffalo News. "You're going to answer for what you did."

"It's in the news every single day," said Lancaster Police Lt. Ronald Rozler, who broke down in tears during a news conference following Ettipio's arraignment. "It's a tragic event that changes so many lives. You'd hope at some point, people would get the message that it could happen to you."

Ettipio has been charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, driving while intoxicated and failure to keep right. Police records indicate a roadside breath test showed Ettipio's blood alcohol content was .225 percent -- nearly three times the legal limit.

The 23-year-old Lancaster man looked ashen Friday morning as he was brought into Town Court in handcuffs for his arraignment.

In court were his distraught parents and friends, who wiped away tears as the judge read the charges against him.

In asking to keep bail at $10,000, defense attorney Mark Sacha told the judge Ettipio was a lifelong resident of Lancaster who graduated from Lancaster High, has a full-time job and no criminal record.

"He is a great kid, judge," Sacha said. "This whole case is a tragedy."

Assistant District Attorney Peter Cosgrove asked for bail to be set at $50,000 but the judge settled on $25,000.

The accident unfolded as the sun was setting Thursday night.

Bryce, an eighth-grader at Lancaster Middle, had gone to school earlier that day and then went out with friends to ride and do bike stunts in the Village of Lancaster. When one boy got a call from his mother to come home because it was getting dark, Bryce rode home with him.

The boy, whose name is being withheld by The News because he is 14, rode about 100 feet behind Bryce. Neither were wearing helmets, according to a statement he gave to police.

The boys were southbound on Lake -- a long, straight road with a single lane in each direction and no sidewalks -- riding on the east side of the road against traffic when they came up on the intersection of Lake and Sagebrush Lane, the boy told police.

They were riding "as far as possible off the road without riding on the grass," the boy told police.

At about 8:45 p.m., the boy heard the roar of an engine. "It sounded close," the boy said in his statement. "I looked to my right and see a black square vehicle go by me."

The vehicle, also southbound, was in the northbound lane as it swerved around him and then veered into Sagebrush at the intersection where Bryce was.

Bryce was struck so hard that witnesses said his bike flew in one direction and he was thrown onto the grass.

"The driver never stopped and got out or checked on Bryce," the boy told police. "He just kept going."

The boy said he rode up to Bryce, who lay in a pool of blood. He pulled out his cellphone but neighbors who had heard the commotion said they had already called for help. The boy went to a nearby house and called his mother.

Across the street, Kirkland was reaching into his car to roll up the back windows. He had just taken his family out for a treat at a Tim Hortons.

Through the back window in the car, he watched as the SUV smashed into Bryce, he told The News and police investigators.

"The guy flew off at a high rate of speed like there wasn't a care in the world," Kirkland said.

As his girlfriend went to check on the boy lying in the grass, Kirkland said he watched the SUV speed away.

"I noticed he made a left on Windsor Ridge," he said -- the only left turn off Lake in that direction before it dead ends. An avid fan of crime shows that emphasize how critical the first few moments after an incident can be to an investigation, Kirkland knew what he had to do.

"I got in my car and I kind of sped down to there to try and find him," he said. By the time Kirkland got to Windsor Ridge, he lost sight of the car.

So he prayed.

"I asked God: Give me what you've got to give me. Let's do this. Let's find him. I prayed to Him to put me in the right direction," said Kirkland, a transportation worker out on disability.

Kirkland said he drove the winding roads of Windsor Ridge, made a right turn onto Buckingham Court and saw out of the corner of his eye a man getting out of his vehicle that had been backed into a driveway.

The man was looking at a damaged front headlight.

"He went to see what damage he did to his vehicle and not to see what he did over here," Kirkland said, pointing to the spot where Bryce was struck.

Kirkland stopped his car and confronted Ettipio.

"You were just in that accident on Lake and Sagebrush," Kirkland said.

"Yeah," Ettipio replied, according to Kirkland.

Kirkland said Ettipio smelled of alcohol and appeared to stagger.

"I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and with a few choice words and a little roughness, I put him in the car," Kirkland said.

In the meantime, Ettipio's father came out of the house. "Don't hurt my son," the father told Kirkland.

Kirkland then told the father what happened. "Your son just killed some boy on Lake and Sagebrush," he said.

The father first replied: "There is no Lake and Sagebrush."

"Yes, there is," Kirkland shot back. "I live right across the street. Your son just killed somebody."

The father didn't understand. "He hit and ran," Kirkland said. "He ran home."

Kirkland said the father looked at Ettipio and asked him if it was true.

"Yes, I did," Ettipio said, according to Kirkland.

Kirkland said he put Ettipio in the back seat of his car, and as he drove him back to the scene, Ettipio barely spoke.

Kirkland said he suppressed an urge to hit Ettipio. At one point, he told the man in the back of his car: "Your parents are going through a lot of hell right now, let alone the parents of the kid Do you realize what your drinking has done?"

As they turned the corner from Windsor Ridge back on to Lake, they could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.

"Oh my God, dude. Are you serious?" Ettipio said, according to Kirkland.

Kirkland drove into a driveway near the crash scene. He found a neighbor and told him: "If this guy jumps out, you do what you gotta do."

As neighbors began to surround the car, a police officer came.

"Here you go," Kirkland said. "This is the guy who was driving the car."

The officer took Ettipio aside. Kirkland said he watched as more officers arrived and questioned Ettipio.

"They took him over to show him the blood, to show him what he did," Kirkland said.

Midday Friday, Bryce's friends came to the same spot to bring flowers and glow sticks so they would be illuminated in the dark.

Many of the teens had gone to school earlier to meet with counselors but were too distraught to stay in class, one of their mothers said.

"He was the nicest kid," Gina Graziani, 13, said. "He would never do anything to hurt anybody. He loved his bike. He was always on his bike after school. Him and his friends: They would just ride."

email: mbecker@buffnews.com