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Driver in fatal crash sentenced to 6 months; Passenger in car was his fiancee

Phillip Kane was sentenced Friday to six months in jail and five years' probation for the car crash that killed his fiancee.

Not even the judge liked the sentence.

But the parents of Elisa N. Mannella, 29, Kane's passenger who was killed in the crash, told the judge they could agree to his sentence for criminally negligent homicide and driving while impaired by drugs.

Otherwise, they feared Kane would withdraw his guilty plea and stand trial, and then a jury might acquit the 31-year-old Depew man.

"After the Corasanti case, it's a crapshoot," said Sandy Mannella-Schwendler, the victim's mother, referring to the recent acquittal of Dr. James G. Corasanti on manslaughter and hit-and-run charges in a high-profile jury trial case.

Michael Mannella, the victim's father, said he appreciated the "five and a half years of guaranteed accountability" the sentence now places on Kane.

If Kane violates any conditions of his probation, he would again face a maximum prison sentence of 1 1/3 to four years in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher M. McCarthy said the judge could have sentenced Kane to probation along with sending him to the Erie County Correctional Facility. But probation could not have been part of any sentence that included a state prison term. Parole would follow a state prison sentence.

"There is no just sentence in a case like this," McCarthy said.

"We have our doubts he'll be able to do this," McCarthy said of Kane following the conditions of his probation. Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk said a one- to three-year state prison sentence appeared more appropriate.

But Franczyk said he would have allowed Kane to withdraw his guilty plea before imposing the longer sentence because the judge had indicated a six-month jail term when the Depew man pleaded guilty in March.

The two-vehicle crash on Feb. 24, 2011, killed Mannella, 29, of Depew, an accounting student at Canisius College. Cheektowaga police said Kane was traveling west on Genesee Street near Tadio Parkway when he lost control of his 2003 Ford Crown Victoria and crossed into oncoming traffic. A 2006 Dodge Ram 3500 pickup collided with Kane's car, striking the passenger side.

"Our worst nightmare was true," Mannella-Schwendler said of her daughter's death. "We've been given a life sentence. We have to live a lifetime without her. Phil Kane has changed the direction of our lives forever."

The 5-year-old son of Kane and Mannella is now in the custody of Mannella-Schwendler.

Kane, who was in serious condition after the crash, was arrested the following June after police said laboratory tests confirmed the presence of small amounts of drugs in his body, including cocaine.

Since the crash, Kane's record includes missed counseling appointments and one report from a treatment facility that indicated the presence of marijuana in his system.

Kane's more recent treatment record is better, but Franczyk wondered whether his "11th hour turnaround" is a result "of some epiphany or you're just putting on your best face for sentencing."

Also, a presentence report indicated Kane was not remorseful.

"I've been struggling with this case since the first day I got it," Franczyk said.

Franczyk asked Kane to explain how the crash happened. Kane said he could not remember it.

The judge also said he was troubled by Kane's "piddling record" of minor drug arrests, traffic violations and license suspensions.

While Franczyk discussed a six-month jail term back in March when Kane pleaded guilty, the judge reconsidered.

"I didn't think you deserved it, quite frankly," Franczyk said to Kane in court of the six-month jail term. "I still don't."

The judge sentenced him to six months anyway, given the parents' preference for an outcome that guaranteed accountability for Kane.

Kane told the judge he is committed to turning around his life.

He apologized to Mannella's family for her death. "She was the best person I've ever known in my life," Kane said. "I will never get to see her again, and that's my fault."

email: plakamp@buffnews.com