A judge’s review of an Erie County grand jury’s investigation into last November’s accident that killed a West Seneca political leader played a role in sentencing the other driver to three years probation Wednesday morning in State Supreme Court.
“This accident was unavoidable on the part of this defendant,” Justice Russell P. Buscaglia said. “I say that because that weighs heavily upon me in the sentence I am going to impose.”
Robert J. Styn Jr., 62, of West Seneca, had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated that stemmed from the Nov. 27 crash that killed 33-year-old Daniel S. McParlane, chairman of the West Seneca Democratic Committee and an Erie County Sheriff’s deputy.
Once Buscaglia announced that Styn wold not go to jail, a woman in the gallery began crying.
“I understand the tragedy that is involved here. I understand the loss of life,” the judge continued, referring to McParlane as a “young, new community leader.”
“I understand how tragic that is, but I also am balancing that with the entire investigation and everything else I have reviewed,” Buscaglia said.
More serious charges, including vehicular manslaughter, had been considered but were not filed because no evidence suggested that Styn caused the crash. Also, toxicology tests from McParlane’s autopsy never were released by the District Attorney’s or Medical Examiner’s offices despite Freedom of Information Law requests by The Buffalo News.
McParlane was driving home, after meetings in a Lackawanna restaurant and a South Buffalo pub, when his car crossed over into the other lane and collided with the vehicle driven by Styn, who had been drinking beer at a friend’s home earlier that night.
Authorities said McParlane’s car likely hit an icy patch on Indian Church Road, near Mineral Springs Road, before it spun into the opposite lane, where Styn was unable to avoid a collision.
Styn, a retired tool-and-die maker, wasn’t seriously injured in the collision, although a passenger in his car was taken to Mercy Hospital for treatment. McParlane, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the county’s Holding Center, died from multiple injuries, according to an autopsy report.
In addition to the probation sentence, Buscaglia ordered Styn to pay a total of $2,445 in fines and fees during the first year of his probation, which carries multiple conditions. Among them: his driver’s license is revoked for three years; 250 hours of community service; and all weapons owned by Styn, an avid hunter, must be surrendered.
Styn also must participate in the DWI court program run by Buffalo City Court, a requirement that carries several conditions of its own.
“If any of those terms or conditions are violated ... you will face the maximum jail sentence we talked about,” the judge warned Styn. The maximum term for the two misdemeanor convictions is two years in jail.
Buscaglia had delayed sentencing for several days – it originally was scheduled for June 23 – so that he could review information presented to the grand jury that indicted Styn. He indicated Wednesday morning that comments Assistant District Attorney Kelley A. Omel previously made about McParlane’s family understanding the circumstances of the collision were at odds with letters from them and friends of the victim, seeking the most serious penalties possible.
The judge said the letters also questioned the investigation into the cause of the collision.
“It’s rather unusual that I felt it was necessary for me, or appropriate for me ... to review the entire grand jury investigation,” Buscaglia said. “I have reviewed it several times.”
“My conclusion, after reading the grand jury proceedings, was that it was a thorough investigation that was conducted by the grand jury,” the judge continued. “I’m not going to go into any detail.”
Speaking before sentencing, Styn said: “I would like to apologize to the family. I’m sorry this accident ever had to happen.”
Afterward, members of Styn’s and McParlane’s family declined to comment, as did Omel, who prosecuted the case.
Styn’s attorney, James Vallone, addressed reporters.
“It was a very well thought-out decision, quite frankly. As far as we’re concerned, it was the proper one,” Vallone said.
The lives of both families have changed, Vallone said.
“We understood that a large part of the community lost a significant person. We knew what the loss was on the other side; we recognized that.”
Vallone said that Styn has been having flashbacks about the accident.
“He’s had to relive this accident and it’s been very difficult for him.”