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Driver takes plea in fatal hit-run

A Wheatfield man admitted in Niagara County Court on Friday that he was at the wheel of a car that struck two Niagara Falls pedestrians Oct. 26, killing one and seriously injuring the other.

However, Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner acknowledged in court that neither victim's family was particularly happy with the preindictment plea deal he offered.

Michael K. Walaszek, 26, of Plaza Drive, took the offer and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident without reporting it, a Class D felony that carries a seven-year maximum prison term.

Judge Matthew J. Murphy III made no promises on sentencing and scheduled his decision for June 5.

"[The families] don't like that the maximum is seven years," Brenner said. "The defendant has no record. He'd be pleading to the second to the top count."

Co-defense counsel James J. Faso said Walaszek faced possible indictment on a Class B felony with a 25-year prison term because he killed one man and injured another in the same accident.

"There were eyewitnesses and video," Faso said. "It was a fair offer."

Brenner said a surveillance video from a nearby convenience store showed Walaszek's 2000 Ford Taurus heading past the store at Walnut Avenue and 19th Street.

He said calculations based on analysis of that tape estimated the car's speed at 77 mph, although another accident reconstruction came up with 52 mph. The speed limit was 30 mph.

Brenner said Walaszek and two friends had been drinking at a bar before deciding to head for downtown Niagara Falls.

The crash occurred at 12:58 a.m., when the Taurus struck Mark Milczarski, 38, and Eduardo M. Ortiz, 40, both of Ferry Avenue, as they were crossing Walnut Avenue.

Milczarski was killed, and Ortiz suffered a fractured pelvis, a broken ankle and a concussion, Brenner said.

Brenner said, "[Walaszek] never stopped. He knew he hit a person, because [his passengers] told him, 'Watch out for the people,' and afterwards one of them said, 'You have to go back and get someone.' "

The car was found on fire on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation about 90 minutes after the accident.

Faso said he intends to ask Murphy to avoid sending Walaszek to jail at all, but co-defense counsel Herbert L. Greenman wasn't so sure. "We'll see what the presentencing report says," he said.

Walaszek already faces civil suits by Ortiz and by Milczarski's family, seeking unspecified damages.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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