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Lackawanna man pleads guilty in his sixth DWI case

A Lackawanna man with five felony DWI convictions has pleaded guilty in a Hamburg drunken driving crash that seriously injured his passenger and ended with the suspect wading into Lake Erie as he tried to flee.

Douglas Kersten, 43, pleaded guilty this week in State Supreme Court to first-degree vehicular assault and felony driving while intoxicated in connection with the May 18 crash.

Prosecutors said Kersten, another man and a woman spent the morning and early afternoon drinking at a party in Lake Erie Beach in the Town of Evans. They said Kersten stole the woman’s car keys and drove off with the other man.

Kersten lost control of the car and vaulted down an embankment along the lake in Hamburg, ejecting his companion who suffered a traumatic brain injury, prosecutors said.

Kersten punched a good Samaritan who tried to help him, prosecutors said. Kersten then ran away and waded into the lake where the Erie County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was called to assist Town of Hamburg police in rescuing him.

Police took him into custody and obtained a court order to draw his blood. Testing showed he had Xanax, a drug prescribed to treat panic and anxiety disorders, and marijuana in his system and that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.16 percent, which is twice the legal limit for DWI.

He faces a maximum prison term of 3½ to seven years when he is sentenced April 9 by Justice John L. Michalski, according to Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

His five previous felony DWI convictions date from 1989 to 2009, said Assistant District Attorney Beth A. Solek.