A Wheatfield man who was at the wheel of a farm vehicle when it overturned last summer, killing his passenger, was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated Wednesday in Niagara County Court.
Michael W. Schimschack, 32, of Schultz Road, tearfully apologized to Gregory Gerbec, the brother of the victim, Jeffrey Gerbec, after entering the plea before Judge Peter L. Broderick Sr.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen," said Schimschack, who had been indicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Assistant District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said the plea was offered "because the family [of the victim] approved it."
Defense attorney Michael J. Violante said, "We are grateful the family has allowed this misdemeanor plea."
Schimschack can receive no more than a year in jail when Broderick sentences him June 6. If he had been convicted of criminally negligent homicide, the maximum penalty would have been four years.
The judge made no commitment on sentencing but remarked, "It certainly seems to be a tragic situation all the way around."
Gregory Gerbec declined to comment when asked why the family was willing to let the case be settled with a misdemeanor plea, but Schimschack's comments in court indicated the victim might have played a role in causing the accident last Sept. 6.
"[Jeffrey Gerbec] was kind of pulling the wheel a little, and we were laughing and joking," Schimschack told Broderick. Jeffrey Gerbec, 29, lived on Alder Creek Drive in Wheatfield.
Schimschack also said, "I drank at least six or eight beers where I worked," a plumbing company.
Schimschack said he drove the six-wheeled Polaris Ranger from 103rd Street in Wheatfield to a field behind the Marlboro Inn in Sanborn, where it overturned. Part of the route was on the road, resulting in grounds for the DWI charge.
Brenner said a blood test two hours after the accident showed Schimschack's blood-alcohol content was 0.13 percent. The legal minimum for DWI is 0.08 percent.