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Niagara Falls mother of two gets 6 months in jail for DWI crash that killed motorcyclist

LOCKPORT – A Niagara Falls mother of two was sentenced Monday to six months in jail for being drunk when she turned into the path of a speeding motorcycle, causing a wreck that killed the biker.

Stephanie J. Hatch, 31, of 77th Street, had pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated in the May 28 crash that killed Zachary T. Ripley, 32, of Haeberle Avenue, Niagara Falls.

While Hatch’s blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.15 percent, nearly twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08, Ripley was driving at between 70 mph and 80 mph, acting Niagara County District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said. Postmortem blood tests also showed evidence of Suboxone and the active ingredient in marijuana.

Those complicating factors led to the plea offer, Brenner said. It included a recommendation for no more than six months in jail, which State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. accepted.

“The DA came to me and said, ‘I got a tough case. Will you commit to this sentence?’ ” Kloch said.

The crash occurred as Hatch was making a left turn into the parking lot of the Original Honey’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard, just west of Factory Outlet Boulevard. Kloch said that if he could talk to Ripley, he would say, “Zack, you can’t go 80 mph on Niagara Falls Boulevard at 10 at night. … You can tell by the crosses on the side of the road it’s a bad intersection.”

Defense attorney James J. Faso Jr. said Hatch downed two shots of vodka before driving. Hatch had said when she pleaded guilty March 11 that it was four shots.

The drinking occurred at the home of Hatch’s boyfriend. After downing their vodkas, the couple headed for Honey’s in separate vehicles.

The jail sentence will serve as the beginning of five years’ probation for Hatch, who also must pay fines and fees totaling $1,910. After her release from jail, Hatch must wear a monitor that detects alcohol consumption and perform 250 hours of community service.

Ripley’s mother-in-law, Mary Jo Moran, told the court. “Her children should know that she killed Zack Ripley, murdered him, and they should do community service along with her.”

Hatch, a second-time drunken driver, cried throughout the court proceedings. “This was a terrible tragedy, a terrible accident,” she said. “Sorry’s not good enough, and I know that.”

Kloch could have given Hatch probation without an introductory jail term, but he told her, “Death is different, and you contributed to Zack’s death by having so much booze in your system on that occasion – point-one-five. How can I overlook that?”

Twice, Kloch and security guards reprimanded Ripley’s family and threatened them with ejection from the courtroom for making comments during Hatch’s statement. As the red-eyed defendant was led away in handcuffs, a woman in the courtroom heckled her, “Suck it up,” earning another rebuke from the judge.

A restitution hearing was set for Dec. 2, as Faso said he contests demands for repayment of $6,000 paid to the victim’s family from the county’s crime victims assistance budget, as well as a demand for payment of $2,688 in funeral, burial and gravestone expenses.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com