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DRUNKEN DRIVER GETS 5 TO 15 YEARS IN DEATH OF BONA STUDENT

A South Buffalo drunken driver, sentenced Friday to 5 to 15 years in prison, was told of the promising young life he ended and another he nearly cut short when he sped down Seneca Street in March and smashed head-on into another car.

Michael R. McCarthy, 28, a laborer, was also told by Justice Russell R. Buscaglia during his State Supreme Court sentencing that he had to face the consequences of his actions and was lucky he could not be prosecuted for intentional murder.

McCarthy's drunken driving, his third arrest in five years, caused the death of Karen Marie Kwiatkowski, 18, a St. Bonaventure University student, and serious injuries to Kathleen Smith, 20.

Ms. Kwiatkowski's father, Robert, addressed the judge while holding a picture of his daughter with his wife, Angela, at his side. He called his daughter "a truly innocent victim and a good, clean kid with a pure heart who has been taken from this earth."

He said McCarthy had acted no differently than if he had a gun and shot his daughter at point-blank range and left her to die.

Ms. Smith, a Buffalo resident, said she suffered eye injuries, requires further surgery, has suffered severe weight loss and still gets anxiety attacks from the accident. She is undergoing psychological counseling.

"I have had a very hard time trying to understand why this happened and my closest friend was killed," she told the judge. "I still have dreams about the crash, and I still cry for what seems to be no reason."

She said she watched her friend die and called McCarthy "an angry and vengeful drunk" whose driving showed no regard for others.

"He tried to kill us both that night, and I have to suffer this every day," she said.

McCarthy pleaded guilty on July 1 to a manslaughter charge and admitted the chain of events that led up to the fatal crash.

He was first arrested March 6 at a Seneca Street tire shop after he took his car there for repairs. An employee called police about McCarthy, saying he was obviously intoxicated, and McCarthy was charged with driving on a revoked license from an earlier driving-while-intoxicated conviction and driving with phony license plates. He passed a sobriety test.

After a friend put up $80 to get him out of jail, McCarthy spent the rest of the afternoon drinking vodka and iced tea. He was apparently on his way home at about 9 p.m. when he reached speeds of 55 to 60 mph on Seneca Street, said prosecutor Leonard E. Krawczyk Jr., chief of the district attorney's DWI Bureau. McCarthy's vehicle hit Ms. Smith's car head-on in the 2200 block of Seneca.

McCarthy, who wept during his sentencing, expressed what he called his "deepest apologies" to Ms. Smith and the Kwiatkowskis. He said he was "terribly sorry" he let alcohol become "part of my life."

Asking for "a small degree of forgiveness," McCarthy said he has felt suicidal and could understand their "anger and hatred" toward him. He said he prays "for forgiveness" and hopes others may learn about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Robert N. Convissar, McCarthy's court-appointed lawyer, told the judge he had initially felt he could not accept the case because his 17-year-old son was fatally injured in a local car crash caused by a driver operating his vehicle "inappropriately and recklessly."

But Convissar said he continued to represent McCarthy because he was quickly convinced McCarthy was a "shaken, broken, remorseful individual willing to accept responsibility for the harm and hurt and horror that he caused" and that his remorse was "deep felt and not a front or an excuse."

Kwiatkowski told the judge a benefit two weeks ago raised $10,000 to set up a scholarship in Karen's name at Mount Mercy Academy, where she graduated before going to St. Bonaventure.

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