The victim was so beloved and the behavior that took her life was so egregious that a State Supreme Court justice said he wished that he could sentence the person responsible to more time in prison.
Sarah M. Skotnicki did receive the maximum sentence. But that was 1X to four years in prison. The 26-year-old woman was convicted of criminally negligent homicide for the collision that killed Carol Dion in Depew in September. Skotnicki had gotten high on an aerosol can propellant before the crash.
Defense attorney Patrick Quinlivan asked that the judge consider mercy because of Skotnicki’s personal and family problems.
“I don’t think mercy is the correct word today,” Justice John L. Michalski responded. “I wish I could go further, I wish the punishment could be more. But it can’t.”
The morning of the crash, Skotnicki stole an aerosol can of Endust from a big-box retailer, inhaled the propellant while sitting in her truck in the parking lot and then drove at almost twice the speed limit through a residential part of French Road in Depew. Other drivers saw the speeding truck weaving in traffic before it crossed the double-yellow line and crashed into a small sedan driven by Dion.
Dion, 72, was just a few blocks from her home, after taking her 23-year-old granddaughter to a doctor’s appointment. She died at the scene.
Skotnicki could not be prosecuted for the more serious charge of vehicular manslaughter because the cleaner she was high on is not included in the state’s list of controlled substances, Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said. That is a requirement for charges of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence that raises the degree of criminality.
Speaking on behalf of his wife and family Thursday morning, Gary Dion struggled to compose himself while addressing the court before the sentencing.
He started with Skotnicki’s “complete disregard for human life.”
“You drove a truck as a weapon to kill my wife of 50 years,” Dion said.
He described how they had to wait for the coroner to have his wife extricated from her smashed vehicle. Skotnicki was going so fast and the impact was so powerful that the engine was thrown from the car.
He also said that, besides being his school sweetheart and lifelong companion, his wife was also his caregiver, the person who kept him alive.
“The worst verdict is not enough for you,” he concluded.
Other family members filled a row in the courtroom and the judge remarked that, in 10 years on the bench, he had never before received such an extensive, heartfelt and moving collection of letters from loved ones and friends as he received about Carol Dion before the sentencing.
While some writers expressed “discontent” with Skotnicki, as the judge put it, most just wanted to make sure he knew how special Dion was to those who loved her and to the community.
“It was difficult getting through them,” Michalski admitted.
Quinlivan said that Skotnicki took full responsibility for her actions. He said that Skotnicki’s husband had attempted suicide the day before the crash and she was distraught when she stole the cleaner and “huffed” it.
“She wasn’t doing it for kicks. She was under a great deal of stress,” Quinlivan said.
Skotnicki also claims she was reaching for a pack of cigarettes, which distracted her when she drove into oncoming traffic. However, even though she was injured herself in the crash, she later “huffed” and drove again, and was in another crash. That time only property was damaged, but her husband made her go into treatment, Quinlivan said.
The lawyer also noted that the events have destroyed his client’s life.
“I’m the only one here (in court) for her today,” he said. “She has two children, now in foster care. She’s going to get out (of prison) at some point, but this isn’t something she’d going to get over.”