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Lancaster man pleads guilty in hit-run fatal to teen cyclist Comparisons between Ettipio, Corasanti were unavoidable

The day after Dr. James G. Corasanti was acquitted of felony charges involving a fatal, alcohol-related, hit-and-run crash, a Lancaster man pleaded guilty to almost the exact same charge for doing almost the exact same thing.

Michael C. Ettipio, 24, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree vehicular manslaughter for driving drunk and killing 14-year-old Bryce Buchholz, an eighth-grader at Lancaster Middle School, who was biking home with a friend on May 3. Ettipio will be sentenced on Sept. 13.

Comparisons between this case and the Corasanti trial were unavoidable, even though prosecutors and defense lawyers did not directly mention Corasanti's name.

"You have a different set of circumstances, and you have a different defendant," said District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III. "[Ettipio] did nothing to hide evidence. He didn't destroy evidence. Once brought to the police, he was very cooperative. This defendant has taken responsibility for what he did."

"That's what he should do," responded Bryce's mother, Linda, after the hearing.

She and her husband, Bill, wiped away tears as they waited patiently in the courtroom for Ettipio's guilty plea. Sitting with them were Bryce's grandparents and brother.

Ettipio, meanwhile, sat farther down in the same row, somber in his dark sport jacket. He held his mother's hand until he was called forward by State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski. His mother wept.

According to police and prosecutors, Ettipio crossed a double yellow line and struck one of two boys riding their bicycles on the shoulder of Lake Avenue.

"He did admit to drinking and driving and being the sole occupant of that car," said Assistant District Attorney Bethany A. Solek.

Though Bryce and his friend were riding against traffic, they were caught off guard when Ettipio's car came at them from behind. Witnesses said the force of the crash sent Bryce flying in one direction and his orange bike in another.

"Bryce never had a chance," said Chris O'Brien, the lawyer representing his family.

Ettipio drove off but was followed and found by bystander Benny Kirkland, who witnessed the accident and forced Ettipio to return to the scene, where Lancaster police arrested him. Kirkland was credited strongly by prosecutors on Thursday for his role in the case.

"I have nothing but admiration for that man," Sedita said.

Solek said Ettipio's blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was .24 percent, three times the legal limit. That level of intoxication allowed authorities to charge Ettipio with first-degree vehicular manslaughter, one degree higher than the manslaughter charge Corasanti faced.

Ettipio was apparently returning from ForestView Restaurant when the accident occurred.

Unlike in the Corasanti case, Ettipio voluntarily submitted to a roadside breath test and had his blood drawn shortly after the accident. In addition, prosecutors were able to obtain damaging video from the restaurant bar where Ettipio had apparently spent the afternoon with friends.

Solek said the video showed Ettipio drinking for hours and staggering around the bar before actually falling over. The video then shows another bar patron helping him to his feet and Ettipio doing a shot of Southern Comfort before going to hang out on the patio and eventually stumbling to his car, she said.

Michalski allowed Ettipio to remain free on $25,000 bail before his Sept. 13 sentencing, provided that he refrains from drinking alcohol or driving. The judge can sentence Ettipio to anything from probation to 15 years in prison.

Ettipio approached his mother and father sadly as the family turned to leave, with the father continuing to hold his wife, who was inconsolable throughout the hearing.

Outside the courtroom, Bryce's family was similarly attempting to regroup.

Both of Bryce's parents described their son as a friendly and open boy who knew how to make others laugh. He was a huge fan of the outdoors and loved his bike, which he got as a Christmas gift.

Michael Mohun, one of two lawyers representing Ettipio, said the defense team carefully reviewed the DA's case, did its own investigation to reconstruct the accident and determined it was in everyone's best interest for Ettipio to plead guilty.

"He's not shifting blame to a 14-year-old boy who was riding his bike on a public road," he said.

Making indirect reference to the drawn-out Corasanti case, Mohun noted that this decision was reached within the same month the accident occurred and is an acknowledgment of the pain and tragedy that has befallen the Buchholz family.

"We're taking the plea because he's guilty," Mohun said. "There's no reason to prolong this."

Both police and prosecutors said they appreciated Ettipio's decision.

"The young man's actions are irreversible," said Lancaster Police Chief Gerald Gill. "By all accounts, he was a gentleman, and I imagine he is being agonized by his conscience."

Sedita said, "This defendant appears to be exhibiting a genuine mea culpa, a genuine apology to the family by virtue of his actions -- by promptly, freely and fully admitting his guilt. You don't see it all the time."

News Staff Reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report.

email: stan@buffnews.com