While Carol Dion was taking her granddaughter to a medical appointment Sept. 9, Sarah Marie Skotnicki was a few miles away stealing a can of Endust from the Target store on Walden Avenue so she could “huff” it to get high.
A short time later, a disoriented Skotnicki was driving her Dodge pickup truck at 72 miles an hour through a residential area along French Road in Depew when she crossed the double-yellow line and crashed head-on into the car carrying Dion and her granddaughter.
Dion, 72, died in the crash. Her passenger, Katrina Dion, 23, was injured.
Skotnicki, 26, who suffered a broken leg and foot in the crash, hobbled into State Supreme Court using a crutch Monday morning to stand before Justice John L. Michalski and plead guilty as charged to criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony.
She admitted that she was under the influence of difluoroethane – the aerosol propellant in the furniture cleaner – in the fatal crash.
Skotnicki, of Burlington Avenue, Depew, was not charged with the homicide until 4½ months after the crash, while investigators worked on the case and awaited toxicology results.
It turned out that Skotnicki was under the influence of a chemical inhalant that New York State health law does not categorize as a controlled substance, since it is considered a chemical poison, not a drug, meaning she could not be charged with driving while intoxicated or under the influence.
The effects of huffing aerosols generally last only a few minutes but can be extreme. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, the poisons can act like a depressant, with effects such as weakness, slurred speech, loss of coordination and dizziness. They also can be fatal to the abuser.
The NIDA website said most users are adolescent and teenage boys.
Causing the death of another person when driving while intoxicated in New York leaves an individual open to a charge of vehicular manslaughter, which carries a maximum possible penalty of seven years in prison, or more if there are extenuating circumstances.
Criminally negligent homicide is charged when a defendant doesn’t intend to cause someone’s death but behaves in a way that is so reckless, inattentive, negligent or careless that a person is killed. It has a maximum possible sentence of 1 1/3 to four years in prison.
In accepting the plea, Michalski made no sentencing commitment.
Dion was just a few blocks from her home, driving in a neighborhood she knew on a bright, clear day, when her car was hit at 11:29 a.m. with such force that it sent the engine flying and knocked a tire off.
Members of her family who were in court Monday sat stoically while Skotnicki entered her plea.
The judge ordered the defendant held without bail and set sentencing for April 21.