A Wheatfield hit-and-run fatality in 2014 continues to reverberate through local courtrooms.
The driver who killed Ryan Fischer, 16, of North Tonawanda, faces charges of illegally padding an insurance claim he filed after the teenager's mother, who was drunk at the time, rammed his garage door and damaged his vehicle.
Anthony J. DiFilippo of Wheatfield was arrested Monday and brought to State Supreme Court in Lockport, where he pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree insurance fraud, attempted fourth-degree grand larceny and filing a false statement.
"It's the very same car that he killed Ryan Fischer in, that he made the inflated claim on, allegedly," Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner said in court.
"We believe he will be vindicated when all is said and done," Assistant Public Defender David E. Blackley said.
If convicted, DiFilippo, 42, could go to prison for as long as eight years: four years for insurance fraud and another four years for violating probation on his guilty plea to attempted leaving the scene of a fatal crash without reporting it.
Capt. Bruce Elliott of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that DiFilippo allegedly damaged his own vehicle to make it look worse than it did in crime scene photos taken right after the incident with Lisa Fischer, the dead boy's mother.
"The damage that occurred that night was extremely minor and in what was reported to the insurance company, the pictures they were provided and what they documented, the damage was quite extensive," Elliott said. "That's our contention, that it was done on purpose by someone."
Elliott said Progressive Insurance paid DiFilippo more than $1,800, but the difference between the crime scene photos and those taken by a Progressive claims adjuster was noticed after evidence was submitted in a North Tonawanda City Court small claims case DiFilippo brought against Lisa Fischer last year. The Frauds Bureau of the State Insurance Department was alerted.
On Oct. 17, DiFilippo won $501.40 from Fischer in the small claims case, court officials said.
After receiving the insurance money, DiFilippo had the Murano repaired and then sold it, Elliott said.
"I'm concerned about the insurance fraud," said Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., who jailed DiFilippo in lieu of $50,000 bail.
A roadside tragedy
About 7 p.m. Nov. 20, 2014, Ryan Fischer was walking along Krueger Road in Wheatfield with his girlfriend, Leeza Kalish.
There was no curb or paved shoulder on the road, just a narrow strip of grass between the pavement and a deep drainage ditch.
Fischer, who Kalish said was walking "half in the pavement and half in the grass," was struck from behind by a Nissan Murano driven by DiFilippo, who drove off without stopping.
Fischer was taken off life support the next day.
Niagara County Sheriff's Office investigators seized DiFilippo's vehicle in December 2014 and spent nearly a year trying to match it to pieces of metal found at the accident scene. DiFilippo had the Murano repaired before it was confiscated.
He wasn't arrested until September 2015, and in May 2016, DiFilippo took a plea deal before Kloch, admitting to the reduced charge of attempting to leave the scene.
In September 2016, Kloch followed through on the plea deal by sentencing DiFilippo to five years' probation, with the first six months served in the Niagara County Jail.
Lisa Fischer filed a wrongful death suit against DiFilippo. Her civil attorney, Christopher M. Pannozzo, said Monday that the case recently was settled for $50,000, the limit of DiFilippo's insurance coverage.
After DiFilippo served his jail time, he was allegedly harassed by Lisa Fischer.
On March 6, 2017, Fischer repeatedly rang the doorbell and pounded on the windows of DiFilippo's home on Michael Drive in Wheatfield, according to Sheriff's Office reports.
Sheriff's deputies reported that when DiFilippo came out of the house to talk to her, Fischer, who had returned to her car, accelerated toward him.
DiFilippo jumped out of the way and Fischer's Chevrolet Malibu crashed into his garage door, damaging it and the Murano parked inside the garage.
One of the investigating deputies, Guy Fratello, reported that he saw a scrape on the rear bumper of DiFilippo's vehicle.
Fischer, 38, drove away, but a deputy spotted the Malibu on Larry Court in Wheatfield, pulled it over, and arrested Fischer for driving while intoxicated and a variety of other counts.
She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI July 18 in Wheatfield Town Court, her second DWI conviction. Her license was revoked for at least six months and she was ordered to pay a fine and surcharge totaling $900.