A Hamburg man pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in Cattaraugus County Court Tuesday for throwing the 95-pound log that killed a Buffalo woman at Zoar Valley in June.
Paul D. Fraccica, 19, of Nottingham Terrace told Judge Larry M. Himelein that the death of Amanda Occhino, 22, of Ashland Avenue was an accident and he's sorry for what happened.
Several members of Fraccica's family and a girlfriend joined him in the courtroom.
Fraccica's attorney, John Elmore of Buffalo, said as part of the plea arrangement, "I committed to a year in jail, and if more time is imposed, we can withdraw the plea." Sentencing has been set for Oct. 6.
Fraccica's family is satisfied with the plea, Elmore said, as is Ms. Occhino's family.
Ms. Occhino was walking with friends in the Cattaraugus Creek gorge of Zoar Valley near the Deer Lick Falls section at 4:20 p.m. June 16 when the log fell about 110 feet and struck her in the head, said District Attorney Michael P. Nevins. He said the log was 22 inches long and 16 inches in diameter and noted that it gained speed as it fell toward the bottom of the gorge. Ms. Occhino died a week later at Erie County Medical Center.
Fraccica's plea to criminally negligent homicide could result in a minimum sentence of probation, time in a county jail or up to four years in state prison.
That decision, to be made by Himelein, will be based in part on a probation report.
Should Himelein decide Fraccica is to be sentenced to more than a year in jail, he will have the right to withdraw his guilty plea, Elmore explained, according to an arrangement made Tuesday in court.
If Fraccica's plea is withdrawn, the next option would be for Nevins to present the case to a grand jury or for Fraccica to request a trial. He is free without bail, pending his October court appearance.
Elmore said Fraccica plans to enroll in Erie Community College as a freshman this fall.
"It's been a difficult situation and tragedy for both families," said Nevins.
The Zoar Valley log incident wasn't Fraccica's first brush with the law. And it wasn't the first one involving a thrown object.
In October 1996, Fraccica was accused of throwing several beer bottles at the windshield of a car driven by Christopher Cichocki, now 22, of Hamburg, town police have confirmed.
Cichocki was driving on Southwestern Boulevard, when he was passed by another vehicle that was traveling at high speed. He flashed his lights to warn the other driver, who slowed down and rammed Cichocki's vehicle, leading to the throwing of the beer bottles.
Fraccica, a passenger in the other vehicle, was charged with criminal mischief, but later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, Cichocki said.
"I just feel that if something had been done about this originally, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to kill this girl," Cichocki said Tuesday.
Since hearing about Ms. Occhino's death, he has wondered what could have been done differently to make the law work more effectively against Fraccica.
"It just made me feel really guilty," Cichocki said. "It's a sin."
Staff Reporters Gene Warner and Barbara O'Brien contributed to this account.