An Erie County grand jury will decide whether to charge a Lancaster man who struck and killed a young Depew woman as she waited at a bus stop in July, The Buffalo News has learned.
Radames Candelaria, 35, was driving home on Broadway from an overnight work shift when he lost control of his Toyota sport utility vehicle, drifted off the road and hit 18-year-old Ashley Creighton before crossing to the other side of Broadway and crashing into a Depew pizzeria.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III told The News his office will present evidence in the case to a grand jury within the next 30 days. It’s an attempt to answer the lingering questions of why Creighton died and whether Candelaria was criminally responsible.
“It hurts every day,” said Gail Thompson, Creighton’s legal guardian. “It’s horrible. I didn’t believe it at first. I keep asking, Why?”
Candelaria told Depew police, and repeated in an interview, that he fell asleep at the wheel and doesn’t remember anything about the crash until waking up after his SUV came to sudden halt at Penora’s Pizza.
Candelaria said that his lengthy record of nonviolent crimes was driven by a former addiction to heroin but that he’s been clean for three years, since the birth of his oldest daughter, and he is deeply sorry for Creighton’s death.
“It hurts me because it wasn’t anything I did on purpose. My body just couldn’t take any more,” he told The News, citing his exhaustion from an 11½-hour shift and the weekend of camping that preceded the crash.
Candelaria has not been arrested or charged in the July 30 incident, which took the life of Creighton, a Depew High School senior who was waiting on the north side of Broadway near South Kokomo Street to catch a bus for a doctor’s appointment that morning.
Candelaria said that he and his wife, Cheri, and their two young daughters, ages 3 years and 7 months, had spent the weekend in the Thousand Islands and that he hadn’t had much sleep before he had to report to work.
He worked from 7 the night before the crash until 6:30 a.m. July 30, and he was less than one minute from home when, he said, he fell asleep at the wheel.
He said he remembers “nothing” about the crash, adding that when he saw all of the police and emergency crews on the chaotic scene, “I thought it was a dream.”
Candelaria’s attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, did not return phone messages last week seeking comment.
Cheri Candelaria said in a brief interview that she and her husband wanted to express their regret for Creighton’s death to Thompson but were advised not to do so while the legal case was pending.
“We’re remorseful every day,” she said.
Creighton, who had finished her junior year of high school one month earlier, had a troubled childhood, according to Thompson, her legal guardian.
Thompson’s daughter, Sadie, met and befriended Creighton when Creighton was 14. Creighton began spending more and more time at Thompson’s house, Thompson said, and she won custody of Creighton after she turned 16.
The pain of losing Creighton remains fresh in Thompson’s mind, and the younger children in the family have struggled to understand why she is gone. Thompson’s 3-year-old granddaughter asks for Creighton, and Thompson said she tells the child, “She’s an angel in the sky.”
Thompson said that if Candelaria fell asleep at the wheel, and didn’t do anything reckless like speed or drink and drive, she holds no ill will against him. But if he was at fault, she said, “He has to live with his demons.”
Sedita said the evidence in the case raises questions that should be resolved by the grand jury, but he noted that not every fatal motor vehicle crash results in criminal charges against the driver.
He pointed to the case of the driver who killed a Wilson couple in September 2011 as they sat in a Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant in Amherst. Investigators blamed the crash on driver error.
In Candelaria’s case, authorities have not indicated that speed, weather or alcohol were factors in the crash. Sedita and Depew Police Chief Stanley Carwile declined to reveal the results of toxicology testing.
Candelaria told The News that he takes methadone, a powerful painkiller medication used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in people recovering from addiction to heroin and other opiates.
But he said he only had a low level of methadone in his system, as he weans himself off the drug, and the accident was entirely a result of his exhaustion.