A 19-year-old Blasdell man has admitted to driving drunk in a high-speed crash in January on the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca Nation that killed one teenage girl and left two other girls with serious injuries.
Bradley Maloney drank at least six beers before getting behind the wheel, and he ignored pleas to slow down before losing control of his Ford Mustang convertible on a sharp curve on a slushy road, prosecutors say.
Three Hamburg girls, all sitting in the back seat, were thrown from the car: Angela Keim, 14, died; Elizabeth Szewczyk, 13, suffered critical injuries and had a lengthy hospitalization; and Summer Locking, 16, was less seriously injured.
"You put all of those factors together, and what you've got is just an astonishingly reckless [act] that very suddenly and very tragically has left one child dead and another child with the prospect of what appears a very long road back to recovery," Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Friday.
Authorities say 16 young people left a drinking party in Buffalo and were driving in a caravan of three cars to a cottage in Chautauqua County when the crash occurred on the reservation, south of the town of Brant.
Maloney this week pleaded guilty in Erie County Court to first-degree vehicular manslaughter, first- and second-degree vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated -- charges more serious than he initially faced.
His attorney, Anthony J. Lana, said his client feels a deep sense of sorrow for the pain he's caused his victims and their families.
"At the plea [hearing], he could barely enunciate the words," Lana said. "He's very remorseful. He's overcome with guilt."
Authorities say Maloney had spent the hours immediately preceding the Jan. 28 accident with a large group of teenagers at a party in the Black Rock or Riverside sections of Buffalo.
Maloney initially told investigators he drank three beers at the party, but he later conceded having six beers, and the true number may be higher, according to the District Attorney's Office. Witnesses reported seeing Maloney play a drinking game, Sedita said.
At some point, Maloney and the others decided to drive down to a cottage in Sunset Bay on Lake Erie.
The group of 16 teens, ranging in age from 13 to 19, headed out on the road in three cars. Most, if not all, of them had been drinking, Sedita said.
At one point in the drive, Maloney pulled over to urinate, then raced off to try to catch up with the other two vehicles, Sedita said, reaching a speed of more than 80 mph.
The front-seat passenger told Maloney to slow down, the district attorney said, but Maloney refused.
Lana, however, said he hasn't seen anything to substantiate that claim.
The crash occurred at the top of a hill at Versailles Plank and Snow roads, a dangerous curve where the speed limit is 25 mph, said Sedita and Erie County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Savage.
Maloney's Mustang went off the road and plunged down an embankment.
He stayed at the scene and cooperated with the sheriff's deputies who responded to the crash, authorities said.
A test of his blood-alcohol level showed a reading of 0.10 percent, above the 0.08 percent legal limit for drivers, two hours after the crash, Sedita said.
In addition, investigators believe Maloney was driving at least 60 mph at the time of the crash, at about 4:20 a.m.
The road was slippery and Maloney was driving on bald tires, Sedita said, though Maloney's attorney noted the car had passed a state inspection three months earlier.
The three girls in the back seat were ejected from the car, Savage said.
"The fact that they were not wearing seat belts certainly contributed to the fatality and the severity of the injuries," he said.
Angela died, and Summer was seriously injured but recovered.
Elizabeth, known as "Lizzie," was critically injured and initially was in a vegetative state after the accident. She suffered severe brain trauma and likely will require therapy to regain her ability to speak and other functions, Sedita said.
Attempts to reach family members of the crash victims were unsuccessful.
No charges have been filed against the adult or adults who provided alcohol to Maloney and the other underage drinkers. Maloney and other party guests have provided conflicting statements on this point, Savage said.
Lana said Maloney pleaded guilty in part to spare the families of the victims from the emotional stress of a trial.
He pointed out that Maloney is the child of a single mother for whom he cares because she suffered a serious brain injury in a car accident years ago.
Maloney faces a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced by Erie County Court Judge Michael F. Pietruszka on Aug. 27.