The City of North Tonawanda bears 75 percent of the blame for a drunken driver striking two pedestrians on his way to crashing his car into the Erie Canal, a State Supreme Court jury decided last week.
Ronaldo Parker, a Buffalo firefighter, and his girlfriend Darnelle Brady both were seriously hurt when the auto of Anthony D. Regalla of the City of Tonawanda struck them as they were walking their two dogs on a city-owned driveway that had been installed between the canal bike path and the T-shaped intersection of Oliver and Sweeney streets.
Regalla had just left a bar moments before he drove through the intersection and onto the driveway about 11 p.m. on June 20, 2012. Parker suffered a compound fracture of his left leg, while Brady suffered a severely broken foot that required 10 surgeries to save. One of the dogs was killed and the other injured.
"The damages are very significant," said attorney Michael C. Scinta, representing Parker and Brady. "She (Brady) will be affected for the rest of her life."
Scinta said the jury decided Regalla bears 25 percent of the blame for the crash, but Scinta's co-counsel, Timothy M. Hudson, said that under state law, a well-insured party such as the city often ends up paying most of the damage tab if a co-defendant, such as Regalla, has minimal insurance.
"The city's planning to appeal the verdict," said Charles E. Graney, the city's attorney. "It could mean there's a stay (in the second trial)."
The driveway was installed for the use of city maintenance vehicles, Graney said.
Scinta said the city never has installed bollards or any other form of protection to prevent a driver from coming through the intersection onto the driveway. "A very unsafe design," Scinta called it.
But the 2012 crash was the only accident with injuries in the driveway during its 18-year history, evidence at the trial showed.
"The undisputed proof at trial was that Mr. Regalla didn't realize he was at the end of Oliver Street, and didn't realize he was in the canal until his vehicle started to submerge," Graney said.
Regalla's blood alcohol content was measured at .25 percent, more than three times the legal threshold for intoxication.
Another jury trial will determine the amount of the damages to be paid to Parker, 54, and Brady, 48. State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III has not yet scheduled that trial.
Regalla, now 54, pleaded guilty in February 2013 to aggravated vehicular assault and misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon sentenced him to three to nine years in state prison, but he was paroled in August 2015.