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Niagara Falls woman takes plea deal in fatal van-cycle crash

LOCKPORT – A woman who was driving drunk when a speeding motorcycle plowed into her minivan, fatally injuring the biker, accepted a plea bargain Friday.

Stephanie J. Hatch, 31, of 77th Street, Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.

Hatch said she downed “four shots” before the wreck that killed motorcyclist Zachary T. Ripley, 32, of Haeberle Avenue in the Falls.

Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner told State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. that an accident reconstruction by Falls police showed Ripley’s motorcycle was going at least 70 mph, maybe as fast as 80 mph, when Hatch made a left turn into his path.

The accident occurred at 11:55 p.m. May 28, as Hatch was trying to enter the parking lot of The Original Honey’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard, just west of Factory Outlet Boulevard.

Brenner said Hatch’s blood alcohol content was measured at .15 percent, almost twice the legal threshold for intoxication. A postmortem blood test on Ripley showed that his blood contained Suboxone and the active ingredient in marijuana.

At Brenner’s request, Kloch committed to sentencing Hatch to no more than six months in the Niagara County Jail, which would be followed by a probation term. The maximum sentence for criminally negligent homicide is four years in state prison.

Brenner said, “Judge, it’s a compromise. I think it’s a very strong DWI case. I don’t think it’s as strong a vehicular manslaughter case because of the facts regarding Mr. Ripley.”

He added, “To get a felony plea, I’m offering the (sentencing) cap.” Kloch will pass sentence May 6.

Defense attorney James J. Faso Jr. said Hatch, a single mother of two young sons, was most concerned about being home to take care of them. She took the plea offer without waiting to be indicted.