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Couple urges strict probation for driver who ran them down

The couple that Anthony P. Spina hit with his SUV on Elmwood Avenue last September had an unusual request in Erie County Court on Tuesday.

They asked that the man who ran them over and drove away receive less jail time than his lawyer asked for.

But David and Roberta Anderson also asked the judge to sentence Spina, who pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular assault, to five years’ probation after he does get out of jail, to make sure that he doesn’t drink and drive and hurt somebody else.

Judge Kenneth F. Case called the Andersons’ request “nothing short of extraordinary” and approved of their logic. He sentenced Spina to six months in jail followed by five years of strict probation – which includes counseling and no drinking at all, whether he is driving or not.

He also will be required to wear an ankle bracelet that monitors any alcohol consumption.

The crash that brought Spina, 52, and the Andersons to court stunned the Elmwood neighborhood on the evening of Sept. 6.

Roberta Anderson described how she and her husband were riding their bicycles to Canalside, something they had done often, when they were hit from behind near Bird Avenue.

“I always felt safer on Elmwood because of the clearly marked bike lanes,” Anderson said. Also, she was wearing a helmet and bright clothing, and her bicycle had reflectors and lights on the back and front.

“Despite all that, I was still mowed down by a heavily intoxicated Mr. Spina,” Anderson said.

She told of feeling the slamming impact before everything went dark, then of coming to on the ground as people rushed to her aid.

“I was no match for the defendant’s 5,000-pound SUV,” she said.

Her injuries were extensive and, after her shock wore off, she first felt paralyzed, then experienced excruciating pain.

Meanwhile, Spina had collided with David Anderson, who was riding ahead of his wife, and snagged his bicycle under the vehicle. Sparks flew as Spina continued up the street, dragging the bike, until he finally stopped several hundred feet later.

“He got out and tried to get the bike out,” Roberta Anderson said. “He had no concern for the people he hit, just for escaping his heinous actions … It takes a morally bankrupt person to leave two people lying in the road.”

She said she has been through surgery and months of rehabilitation to be able to walk again, and was told by her physician that she can expect to have ongoing problems with her legs.

David Anderson, who was less seriously injured than his wife, focused his remarks on Spina’s past and what that means for his future. He noted that Spina, who lives on Lake Shore Road in Hamburg, had at least one prior DWI conviction that required him to take a class on the dangers of drinking and driving.

“All Mr. Spina learned from his drunken driving course was to refuse the chemical test,” Anderson said. “He knew that without the BAC (blood-alcohol content), police would not have evidence. And he learned when you hit not one but two people with your car, the best thing to do is to get away as fast as possible.”

Both Andersons expressed gratitude to the witnesses who helped them and the police that night. And both were skeptical that Spina, who was driving with an open bottle of vodka in his vehicle, would be a better person if he spent just a year in jail without any post-release supervision.

“Mr. Spina is incapable of making good decisions about alcohol. He needs to stop,” David Anderson said. “I have no faith that he can stop alcohol by himself and I ask the court to sentence him to the full five years of probation.”

In pronouncing sentence, Case advised Spina to follow through on the epiphany he has had by admitting he is an alcoholic and warned him, “If, God forbid, you come back here on any probation violation, I will be considering the maximum range of punishment.”

Should Spina violate conditions of probation, he could face up to seven years in prison.