Anthony D. Regalla had been out late Wednesday night drinking before driving into a parked car on Oliver Street, continuing south and running over a couple walking their two dogs along the Erie Canal, North Tonawanda police said.
Regalla's 1995 Dodge, after striking the couple, plunged into the waterway in front of horrified witnesses at about 11:10 p.m., authorities said.
Darnelle Brady suffered a severe injury to her left leg, but fortunately her boyfriend, a Buffalo firefighter, knew exactly how to stop the bleeding by compressing the wound, according to North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy D. Szukala.
Regalla, 47, of Colonial Drive, City of Tonawanda, and his passenger, both uninjured, were helped out of the water. Regalla was charged with second-degree vehicular assault, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and other lesser charges.
In 2003, Regalla was convicted of drunken driving in North Tonawanda, police said.
Joseph Schneider and a friend were among the people who witnessed the crash, which also killed one of the two dogs.
"We saw him run over the curb at the stop sign on Oliver by Sweeney Street," said Schneider, who was on a nearby bridge at the time. "He then went across Sweeney and rolled up onto the grass by the bike path. That's when the couple looked up, saw the car and tried to dive out of the way."
Regalla's car then went down the steep shoreline into the canal, and Brady cried out in agony, according to Schneider.
"As soon as we heard the splash from the car going in the water and the woman screaming, we started shouting, 'Call 911,' " he said. "I'd never seen anything like that."
At the same time, William Roberts, another witness, jumped into the water and helped Regalla and his companion, Nancy Hamilton, swim to shore after they got out of the car, submerged in about 10 feet of water, police said.
Lt. Daniel Mahoney Jr. stepped into the canal and assisted them onto shore.
"I was only able to see a faint dim light from the vehicle's lights since the vehicle was totally submerged," Mahoney said, adding that he repeatedly asked if anyone else was in the vehicle.
Hamilton, he said, "finally answered there was no one else."
Officer Kevin Mang had been flagged down on the 200 block of Oliver Street by witnesses who alerted him that a driver had just slammed into a parked car and kept heading south toward Sweeney Street. He took custody of Regalla and administered a field sobriety test.
Regalla failed the test, police said, and was taken to nearby DeGraff Memorial Hospital to be checked over. While there, he refused to submit to a blood alcohol test, and Mang contacted Niagara County Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner, who arrived at the hospital. The officer and prosecutor began the process for obtaining a court order from Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas to draw blood.
At the crash scene, Mahoney spotted a man on the ground rendering first aid to Brady.
"Are you an emergency medical technician?" Mahoney asked.
Renaldo Parker, the boyfriend who'd been walking with Brady, answered that he was a Buffalo firefighter and an EMT.
"He was doing a great job. He not only was giving first aid, but was also keeping her calm until the North Tonawanda Fire Department arrived," Mahoney said.
Brady, 42, of North Tonawanda, was transported to Erie County Medical Center, where, Szukala said, she was stabilized.
Parker, 48, suffered a compound ankle fracture, police said. He too was taken to ECMC, where he was treated and later released.
As for Regalla, he was placed in the lockup at North Tonawanda Police Headquarters on Payne Avenue and arraigned Thursday morning before being released on $2,500 bail. He is scheduled to return to North Tonawanda City Court at 1:30 p.m. next Thursday.
Szukala said there were numerous witnesses because concerts at Gateway Harbor Park, farther west along the canal, and at the Riviera Theatre on nearby Webster Street, had let out shortly before the crash, and many people were still in the vicinity.
"If this guy [Regalla] had been a couple inches either way, he could have killed everyone or missed them," he said.