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Retired trooper sentenced in fatal crash Ordered to serve one to seven years

Retired State Trooper David M. O'Brien was taken into custody Wednesday in Little Valley as State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. ordered him to serve a one- to seven-year prison term on his conviction for a fatal head-on car crash.

O'Brien, 69, of Boulder Ridge Road, Allegany, a trooper for 26 years, tearfully told the judge how he regreted the death of Salamanca casino cashier Wendy J. Karnes, 38, in the head-on drunken-driving crash at about 10:35 p.m. April 26, 2008, on Route 219 in Carrollton.

O'Brien, who had been working as an enforcement officer for the state Racing and Wagering Commission at that same casino, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor drunken driving following a two-week jury trial.

O'Brien's lawyer, Edward C. Cosgrove, delivered a 50-minute speech in which he lauded O'Brien's bravery during a 1974 Olean shootout in which three were killed and 11 wounded.

O'Brien also was fined $5,000 by the judge. He could have been sentenced to 2 1/2 to seven years in prison.

Kloch had O'Brien handcuffed and taken from court after denying Cosgrove's request for a delay in his client's sentencing. After the sentencing, Cosgrove said he is hopeful state parole officials will approve O'Brien's release from custody in a year.

Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley prosecuted the case after Cattaraugus County District Attorney Edward M. Sharkey recused himself because of past dealings with O'Brien.

O'Brien was driving the wrong way on Route 219 when he crashed into a car driven by Karnes, 38, just south of Exit 23 of the Southern Tier Expressway. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

During Wednesday's court session, Tim Butler, who identified himself as Karnes' boyfriend, and a girl identified as her daughter joined with prosecutors in calling for a maximum prison term.

During the two-week jury trial in Little Valley, three sheriff's deputies testified about finding O'Brien glassy-eyed and smelling of alcohol at the hospital hours after the collision.

Taking the stand in his own defense, O'Brien could not explain why he was driving the wrong way at the time of the crash. He claimed he only recalled an "explosion" and then waking up in his car in a ditch after the fatal crash.

In imposing a lesser sentence, Kloch stressed that he found O'Brien did not need rehabilitation and said he doubts O'Brien will repeat such drunken driving after his release.

The judge said the state Department of Correctional Services will determine how much beyond one year in custody O'Brien is required to serve.

After the sentencing, Cosgrove, a former district attorney of Erie County and an ex-FBI agent, said the appeal will be based on Kloch's refusal to allow him to call to the stand as character witnesses for O'Brien Cattaraugus County Judges Larry M. Himelein and Michael Nenno and others.

Cosgrove said he will also raise on appeal the judge's decision to allow a State Police technician to testify about blood tests of O'Brien taken three hours after the fatal incident.


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