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DA weighs charges in killing of teacher

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III will decide what the next steps will be in the case of an Albany school teacher who was shot and killed by an Amherst homeowner who thought he was a burglar.

Any decision on whether to pursue criminal charges in connection with the weekend death of David A. Park, 31, is likely to be made by Sedita, Amherst police said Tuesday.

"I don't anticipate any charges being filed by us, without the DA's involvement," said Assistant Police Chief Timothy M. Green.

Sedita said he will review investigative reports on the shooting later this week and probably will decide how to proceed sometime next week.

"I basically have three options: advise the police to file charges, advise them not to file charges, or present the evidence to a grand jury, which would vote on whether charges should be filed," Sedita said.

"Before I decide on which of those options to pursue, I have to gather all the facts and look at those facts in the context of the law."

Park, an award-winning elementary school teacher in the Albany school district, was killed early Sunday morning. The shooting took place in a home on Millbrook Court in the Maplemere section of Amherst.

Authorities said Park was in Amherst to attend a party that night at another house on Millbrook Court. At some point during the party, Park went outside for a while. He then entered the wrong house, where the homeowner, David D'Amico, fired at him with a hunting shotgun, thinking he was a burglar.

D'Amico's attorney, Thomas H. Burton, insists the homeowner was legally protecting his property and broke no laws.

According to Burton, the homeowner's wife called 911 to report a break-in, and the attorney said the homeowner repeatedly told Park to leave his home and warned him that he had a gun before shooting.

While declining to identify D'Amico by name, Burton said his client is an executive with a local construction company who has never been in trouble with law enforcement. His client owns a shotgun because he is an occasional hunter, Burton said.

Family members said Park and his wife, Deanna, traveled to Amherst over the weekend to celebrate with two close friends from Amherst who are expecting a baby.

But Park also had family in Amherst. His wife, the former Deanna Ripstein, grew up in Amherst, where her parents, Susan and Ronald Ripstein, still live.

In a brief interview with The News, Susan Ripstein thanked people in the community who have shown compassion toward her family since Sunday's tragedy.

"We appreciate the outpouring of prayers and support, and we ask people to continue praying for us," Susan Ripstein said. "These next few days are going to be very difficult. . . . It's a horrible, horrible thing."

She said memorial services for her son-in-law will be held on Thursday in Old Forge, where Park grew up, and also on Friday in Albany, where he worked. A service will be planned at a future date in St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Amherst.

In honor of Park's volunteer work as a Little League baseball coach in Albany, the family has set up a memorial fund. Checks can be made out to the Albany Police Athletic League and sent to the league at P.O. Box 6516, Albany, NY, 12206.

Two pieces of evidence that Sedita plans to evaluate will be toxicology tests, which will show whether Park was intoxicated when he entered D'Amico's home, and 911 tapes of the call to police made by D'Amico's wife.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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