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The most emotional moment of Thursday's State Supreme Court hearing came when Michael C. Ettipio turned to face the parents of Bryce Buchholz and told them he hoped they would someday be able to forgive him for killing their teenage son in a drunken-driving accident in May.

But the most striking moment came when Justice John L. Michalski sharply criticized the bar employees who continued to serve Ettipio while he was visibly intoxicated, saying they shared responsibility for Bryce's death.

A packed courtroom filled with family and friends of the defendant and the victim watched as Ettipio was sentenced to up to three years in prison at a somber proceeding where the dangers of drinking and driving were on stark display.

"Over time, I believe we can forgive, but we will never forget," William Buchholz, Bryce's father, told the court.

Ettipio, 24, of Lancaster, had pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular manslaughter in the death of 14-year-old Bryce, who was riding his bicycle on Lake Avenue when Ettipio slammed into him, killing him instantly, before Ettipio fled the scene.

A witness, Benny Kirkland, followed Ettipio, ordered him into his vehicle and drove him back to the scene.

In the hours before the accident, Ettipio had been drinking with buddies and co-workers at the ForestView Restaurant on Transit Road.

Video surveillance footage turned over by the restaurant to Lancaster police investigators showed Ettipio stumbling around, falling to the floor and sitting down for seven full seconds before he got back up, Solek said.

The bartender continued serving Ettipio, who did a shot of liquor before leaving and started walking in the wrong direction before his friends pointed him toward his SUV.

"No one stops him. No one," said prosecutor Bethany A. Solek, who noted that Ettipio tested with a blood-alcohol level of 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for drivers.

"The proof here is overwhelming," she said.

Ettipio's defense attorney, Daniel M. Killelea, attempted to portray his client as a decent young man who made a horrible mistake that night but willingly accepted responsibility.

"Mike Ettipio blames no one else for this," said Killelea, who represented Ettipio with Michael Mohun.

Bryce had been out doing bike tricks with his friend Ryan Neth, also 14, on the night of May 3 and was riding home on Lake, near Sagebrush Lane, at the time of the accident.

Ryan heard the crash that killed Bryce and saw his friend lying dead on the ground, Solek said in court Thursday.

William Buchholz told the court of how helpless he felt driving to the hospital that night, knowing only that Bryce had been hit by a car and hoping that his son had only broken a limb.

He said it was devastating to see his son's lifeless body and to think of all of the life experiences driving a car, or attending his high school prom that Bryce never will have.

"Bryce, my buddy, was gone," said William Buchholz, adding that the happy times they shared in his son's short life are only memories now.

Killelea said Ettippio, his client, agonizes over Bryce's death and has spent the summer since his swift guilty plea volunteering, including speaking at victim impact panels to convicted drunken drivers.

Ettipio spoke haltingly as he tried to express his remorse to the Buchholz family and the shame he feels for his own family. Facing the Buchholzes, he said, "I'm so very sorry. I understand if you hate me, but I hope someday to earn your forgiveness."

Before issuing his sentence, Michalski said an empty chair at the defense table represents the ForestView employees who continued to serve Ettipio even though he was visibly intoxicated and are "equally responsible" for Bryce's death.

The judge said the employees can't be prosecuted criminally but he hopes they "incur a different form of justice" through the civil court system.

Ettipio's sentence of one to three years was on the lower end of the sentencing range of probation to 15 years in prison.

He had been free on bail since his guilty plea but, after sentencing, court officers placed him in handcuffs as his father, Michael, and mother, Dolores, looked on in anguish.

Outside court, Ettipio's parents did not speak to reporters; Killelea said he would not appeal the sentence.

Linda Buchholz said she hopes the attention paid to the case against Ettipio convinces members of the public not to make the same mistake he did in choosing to drink and drive.

Asked what went through her mind at the hearing, she told reporters, "I miss my son, and I'll never have him back."

The Buchholzes in June filed a civil suit against Ettipio and the owners of the ForestView Restaurant in State Supreme Court, and they have watched the footage of Ettipio from the bar with their attorney, Christopher O'Brien.

"It was horrific for them," O'Brien said.

Patrick Kenney, the attorney representing ForestView, in an interview, emphasized the restaurant's cooperation in the police investigation but he declined to address Michalski's remarks or the content of the surveillance video.

Bryce's death opened a deep wound in Lancaster.

He was part of a group of teens who rode their skateboards and BMX bikes in the village and members of the community are raising money to build a skate and bike park in his memory.

email: swatson@buffnews.com