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Bar-closing time becomes central as two are jailed in deadly DWI collision

Bars staying open to 4 a.m., now being debated in Erie County, came up in court Tuesday afternoon when two drivers were sentenced for their roles in a deadly head-on collision on Clinton Street at 4:20 a.m. May 2.

Steven Roller of Auburn, whose son David C. Roller, 29, was thrown from his pick-up and died at the scene, told State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski that he had sent an email to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz asking why bars still are open until 4 a.m., but said he has not yet received an answer.

“Three young lives were ruined because of this. My son is dead. Two young people face incarceration. They will have to ‘What if?’ themselves to death for the rest of their lives,” Roller said.

One of those two people, Daniel Demont, 27, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty on Aug. 12 to vehicular manslaughter for crossing the center line and hitting Roller’s pickup truck. According to prosecutor Kelley A. Omel, Demont had had seven, eight or nine cocktails at two bars before he got into his vehicle at closing time that morning. His blood alcohol level measured 0.21 percent after the crash.

As Demont stood in court biting his lip to fight back tears, his attorney, Barry N. Covert, told the judge, “I agree with Mr. Roller’s comments. There is no reason for bars to be open that late. Nothing good comes of it.”

Demont himself was overwhelmed by emotion and broke down as he tried to speak. He apologized to Roller’s family and said that he plans to devote himself to teaching others about the dangers of drinking and driving.

“It’s clear you are not a monster, but it’s also clear you made some bad decisions – some really, really bad and stupid decisions,” Michalski told Demont before sentencing him to a jail term of one to three years, a $5,000 fine, license revocation for one year and 66 months with an ignition interlock system should he decide to drive again.

Michalski was less sympathetic to the other defendant involved in the crash.

Ashley Alexander, 26, of Buffalo was driving Roller’s truck at the time of the crash and on Aug. 12 pleaded guilty to aggravated driving while intoxicated. She admitted to having a blood alcohol content of 0.23 percent at the time and also tested positive for cocaine after the collision.

The drug use and drinking were violations of her probation for a 2011 conviction on a charge of attempted burglary. Her attorney, Frank Longo, admitted to the judge Tuesday that Alexander hadn’t taken the conditions of her probation seriously before the crash but since then “had done a 180-degree turnaround.”

He asked that Alexander be allowed to remain free and try to make progress on probation.

Michalski was not swayed.

“If you had done what you had been ordered to do by this court, you wouldn’t have been there that night,” the judge told the young woman, who stood expressionless next to her attorney.

He cited Alexander’s continued dependence on drugs and alcohol before sentencing her to up to 12 months in jail for her DWI conviction and up to 12 months for her probation violation. He also assessed a $500 fine and suspended her license.