Four Wheatfield residents were enjoying rides on their motorcycles on July 9 during a jaunt in Wyoming County when they encountered Joshua D. Huntress.
At about 11:45 a.m., his westbound car crossed the center line of Route 20A in Orangeville and smashed head-on into the two motorcycles.
Tomasa Martinez, 66, was killed. Her boyfriend, George McGann, suffered serious injuries and has lost much of the use of his right hand despite three surgeries.
David Stefanski was in a wheelchair for months after the crash. His wife Minerva Stefanski, 55, still uses one. Both had rods inserted into their backs, and Minverva has one in her leg while David Stefanski has pins in his foot.
Huntress has admitted to aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of second-degree assault in a plea deal in Wyoming County Court. He'll be sentenced on Jan. 18.
But any sense of justice David Stefanski might feel from the conviction has been tempered by what he considers a lax sentence.
"They did what the law allows. It's a joke," Stefanski said. "He's getting five years, or maybe 7 1/2, and he killed someone, and us three are messed up forever. We hope it will be longer, but the minimum is ridiculous."
Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O'Geen said Huntress took a large variety of drugs in a Warsaw motel room on the morning of July 9 and then tried to drive to his Mayville home. The crash occurred as another motorist was on the phone with a dispatcher, complaining about a reckless driver.
The maximum sentence for the homicide count is 25 years, but under terms of the pre-indictment plea bargain, Huntress will serve no more than 15 years.
The minimum sentence, after which he will be eligible for parole, is not yet determined. It could be five years, but O'Geen said he is trying to show that a drug conviction against Huntress in Pennsylvania should count as a felony in New York.
If O'Geen wins the argument, Huntress would be considered a repeat felon, and the minimum sentence would rise to 7 1/2 years.
Stefanski said the maximum 15-year sentence the drugged driver will receive is inadequate.
He doesn't blame the prosecutor. He blames the law.
O'Geen said part of the issue is that New York State classifies aggravated vehicular homicide as a nonviolent felony. The state's sentencing law says a first-time nonviolent felon is eligible for parole after one-third of his sentence. A second-time nonviolent felon must serve at least half the sentence.
"None of us, including me, are thrilled with the sentencing structure in this case, but that is because New York State has weak sentencing laws on cases like these," O'Geen said. "Due to that (nonviolent) designation, he will receive a significant period of time off for good behavior, and his release will be at the hands of a parole board. If they treated these cases like they should, as violent felonies, he would have to serve six-sevenths of a determinate term of imprisonment and we would not have to hope that parole does the right thing by keeping him in."
O'Geen went to Wheatfield to meet with the victims to discuss the plea offer and the sentence. The prosecutor also met with them at court.
"He felt that was the best he could do," David Stefanski said. "He likes the certainty. He doesn't like to put it in the hands of a jury."
O'Geen said the victims agreed with the deal.
"After giving them all of the options, this is the one that they chose, and I fully support that decision based on their continued health issues and my experience with the criminal justice system," O'Geen said.
The victims still suffer.
"She's got major nerve damage," Stefanski said of his wife. "She's in agony. They say it might take a year or two for the nerves to regenerate."
Both of them suffered numerous internal injuries, and David Stefanski said all of his front teeth were knocked out in the crash.
Denise Young of the City of Tonawanda, a friend of the Stefanskis, said a benefit for them is planned for March 25 at the Gratwick Hose Company hall in North Tonawanda.
David Stefanski was a longtime millwright at the DuPont plant in the Town of Tonawanda, but he knows he's not in good enough shape to return to that job. Minerva worked as an office manager at a small business and also was self-employed as a massage therapist.
Meanwhile, the mortgage and other bills are piling up.
"I can't afford to go on disability," Stefanski said.