Michael C. Ettipio says he is sorry for driving drunk and killing a Lancaster Middle School student who was riding his bicycle. None of his apologies will bring back Bryce Buchholz. But what will make a difference is a change in the law that may force those who would hit and run to think twice, or pay the penalty.
The State Legislature needs to pass a bill introduced by Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, and Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryzsak, D-Cheektowaga, that would require any driver coming in contact with any object to investigate and report property damage or contact with a person.
The legislation failed to gain ground in part because it was introduced only a week before the end of the legislative session. But this area has the unfortunate coincidence of having had two similar tragedies.
In both cases, the drivers killed someone and then sped away. In one case, Dr. James G. Corasanti claimed he was unaware that he'd hit anyone. In Ettipio's case, a witness followed him and forced him back to the scene. Today Ettipio, 24, seems genuinely remorseful since his drunken-driving accident in May. At his sentencing, he turned to the parents of the 14-year-old he killed and asked for their eventual forgiveness.
Ettipio was so drunk in ForestView Restaurant on Transit Road that he couldn't walk straight. He fell to the ground and remained there for seven seconds before he managed to get up - only to have another drink.
When he left, he walked in the wrong direction and had to be turned around by friends who, like the bartender and other restaurant employees, did nothing to stop his drinking or discourage him from driving. When police tested his blood-alcohol level later, it registered 0.24 percent - three times the legal limit.
Give Ettipio this much credit - in the end he owned up to his actions and has been working ever since to educate others not to take the same path. Perhaps that was part of the reason he was sentenced to up to three years in prison and not much longer. He could have received anywhere from probation to 15 years in prison.
Ettipio's case stands in stark contrast to that of Corasanti, who was sentenced to one year in the Erie County Correctional Facility after a jury convicted him only of a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated in relation to the July 8, 2011, death of 18-year-old Alix Rice, who was riding her longboard home after a night of working at a pizza shop.
The outcome of the Corasanti case sent outrage through the community for what many deemed a penalty that did not measure up to the offense. But it was the maximum Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio could have imposed based on the single misdemeanor conviction. Corasanti was able to hire top-flight legal talent that won acquittal on the felony counts.
Not so for Ettipio. He copped to what he'd done, albeit only after witness Benny Kirkland followed him home, ordered him into his vehicle and drove him back to the scene. "I grabbed him by the back of his shirt and said: Let's go," Kirkland, 40, told The News at the time. "You're going to answer for what you did."
Both cases call to mind the problem of drunken drivers causing damage, injury or death and then driving off.
Because of a quirk in the law, Corasanti was able to claim he didn't know he'd struck Rice (even though the impact crumpled the front of his car). The case prompted Gallivan and Gabryszak to propose legislation to close the loophole that helped lead to the jury's unsatisfying verdict.
As these two deaths show, the matter demands attention and lawmakers need to revisit it when the Legislature reconvenes.
The measure might not keep drunken drivers from fleeing the scene of their devastation, but it is a tool, and one that will help to ensure they are held accountable.