on April 2, 2014 - 12:00 PM
, updated April 2, 2014 at 12:07 PM
A tool-and-die maker pleaded guilty as charged Wednesday to misdemeanor DWI charges that stemmed from the November crash that killed West Seneca Democratic Chairman Daniel S. McParlane. The plea effectively closes the drunken driving case.
But questions still linger, such as the blood alcohol content of McParlane, an off-duty Erie County sheriff’s deputy who had met friends and associates at two area bars that night. And those questions may never be answered publicly.
Robert J. Styn Jr., 62, of West Seneca, pleaded guilty to two DWI charges and faces likely probation when State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia sentences him. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney told the judge that the crash was unavoidable even if Styn had not been drinking that night.
But because McParlane’s autopsy reports will not be revealed at trial, it appears the public will never know McParlane’s blood alcohol level.
McParlane, 33, earlier that evening had attended a meeting of the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association in a Lackawanna restaurant. Patrick B. Burke, then a county legislator-elect, said he also later met the chairman in a South Buffalo pub.
The Buffalo News sought to obtain McParlane’s autopsy report, but the Erie County District Attorney’s Office denied the request. West Seneca police also would not answer questions about whether McParlane had been drinking, or how much.
Earlier reports in The News resulted only after a Freedom of Information request and after appealing to the state Office of Court Administration when West Seneca Town Court officials denied release of any information in the case.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said in November he would conduct a thorough investigation of the fatal crash before determining whether additional charges were warranted against Styn or whether the case would proceed to trial.
In addition to serving as West Seneca Democratic chairman, McParlane was a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Holding Center.
At Wednesday’s court proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Kelley A. Omel said a grand jury investigation determined that the “tragic collision” would have occurred even if Styn had been completely sober.
She said McParlane’s vehicle likely hit an icy patch on Indian Church Road near Mineral Springs Road in West Seneca just after midnight Nov. 27 before it swerved into the opposite lane, where Styn was unable to avoid a collision.
There was no indication, she added, that either driver was speeding or that Styn was driving erratically or violating any vehicle and traffic laws. She also said that a crash analysis by the West Seneca Police Department determined that Styn tried to avoid the collision by moving his car to the right.
Defense attorney James M. Vallone said Styn, a decorated volunteer firefighter who has saved lives, got out of his vehicle after the crash and tried to help McParlane before police and emergency responders arrived.
Omel said Styn or his passenger called 911.
McParlane, who was not wearing a seat belt, was unconscious and bleeding severely when rescuers freed him from his car, and he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Styn admitted Wednesday that he had been drinking beer at a Union Road pub in West Seneca before the crash.
Buscaglia asked Omel if she had contacted McParlane’s family before the guilty plea. The prosecutor said that she talked to the family Tuesday and that they understand that although Styn was driving drunk he was not responsible for the collision. She also said she does not anticipate that they will oppose a nonjail sentence.
Vallone said his client, a retired GM worker, was an excellent candidate for probation, noting that the collision was not his fault and that he tried to assist the victim after the crash.
He said Styn has already completed the first phase of a counseling program in Erie County Medical Center, attending sessions three times a week, and is about to begin the second phase of twice-a-week sessions.
Styn pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated driving while intoxicated and one count of driving while intoxicated, admitting that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.21 percent, more than twice the legal limit.
The judge set sentencing for June 23. The two misdemeanors each carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and maximum fines of $2,500 for aggravated DWI and $1,000 for DWI.
Buscaglia said he would sentence Styn to three years’ probation with conditions, but he added that he may change his mind, depending on the recommendations of the District Attorney’s Office and the victim’s family at sentencing.
Vallone said he understands that if the judge changes his mind about sentencing Styn to probation, Styn will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
Styn has been released on his own recognizance and ordered not to drive or drink.