Ryan E. Gath is a former Eagle Scout who has volunteered in a hospital, churches and a soup kitchen.
Gath is also a man who told police he drank as many as 17 beers Sept. 21, mostly in the parking lot of Ralph Wilson Stadium, before getting behind the wheel, crashing his car and killing a close friend, a back-seat passenger who was ejected from the vehicle.
Co-defense counsel Barry N. Covert said Gath and his friends were tailgating for hours. "They didn't have any intention of buying tickets [for the Bills game]," Covert said.
Yet there was no anger, no tears as Gath, 22, of Maple Drive, Wheatfield, stood before Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III on Monday to plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated.
Instead, forgiveness was in the air.
Before court started, Gath was sitting in the courtroom's audience section flanked by his parents and those of the victim, Matthew K. Marin, 25, of Shawnee Road, Cambria.
Marin's family and two other passengers who were hurt in the wreck, Samantha Scudder of North Tonawanda and Andrea R. Boudreau of the City of Tonawanda, are advocating probation for Gath, according to letters filed with the court.
"They couldn't be more forgiving in that they're going to advocate for Ryan. It doesn't leave the lawyers much to say," co-defense counsel Michael S. Taheri commented.
Murphy made no promises on sentencing, which he scheduled for June 23. He could send Gath to prison for as long as four years.
Gregg and Lori Marin, the dead man's parents, said they forgave Gath on religious and practical grounds.
"I don't want to hold that anger in my heart," Lori Marin said.
Gregg Marin said, "All [a prison sentence] would do is screw up another young person's life. [Gath] and Matthew were close friends. I don't think Matthew would want it, and neither does his brother, Dan."
Gath's parents declined to be interviewed. Gath's only comment was answering Murphy's yes-or-no questions.
Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said the accident happened at 11:17 p.m. at Lower Mountain and Dickersonville roads in Lewiston. Westbound traffic on Lower Mountain Road faces an almost 90-degree right turn, with no stop sign.
"You need to be really sober on that curve," Covert said.
Brenner said, "Mr. Gath told police he had 12 beers before the [1 p.m.] Bills game and four or five after that."
Gath also told police he thought he was driving 65 to 70 mph. Brenner said the posted speed limit is 45 mph, and a sign advises drivers to take the curve at no more than 20 mph.
Brenner said a Sheriff's Office accident reconstruction estimated Gath's speed at 60 to 62 mph. The black box device recovered from the 1997 Chevrolet Lumina indicated a speed of 51 to 54 mph.
Lewiston police reported at the time that Gath's car crossed the road, went through a ditch, became airborne and struck a tree. A blood test taken at Erie County Medical Center almost 2 1/2 hours after the crash measured Gath's blood-alcohol content at 0.10 percent, slightly over the state's 0.08 threshold for intoxication.
After having graduated from the University at Buffalo with an English degree in August, Gath is working on a master's degree in education at Buffalo State College. Taheri said the defense asked Murphy to schedule sentencing after the academic semester ends.
Gath has volunteered at the Heart and Soul soup kitchen in Niagara Falls and has done renovation work for the Chapel on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. He volunteers in the ECMC trauma intensive-care unit, Taheri said.
At age 17, in December 2003, he pleaded guilty in Lewiston to driving while impaired, and in late 2007, Gath got a marijuana misdemeanor in Buffalo.
"If he doesn't learn something from this," Gregg Marin said, "then we'll be angry."