Ashley Derenda and Caleb Bantin-Barney can still see the bright headlights from the pickup truck heading toward them, just before it smashed head-on into their car on Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg nearly two years ago.
Their lives changed in an instant when the truck, driven by Kevin Demert Jr., crossed into their lane and struck their car, critically injuring both of them.
Hamburg Town Justice Walter L. Rooth on Thursday sentenced Demert, 22, to 90 days in jail to be served on weekends and three years’ probation. His license was also revoked.
Demert, of Farnham, had pleaded guilty Jan. 15 to reckless driving and driving with unsafe tires and no inspection. The plea was in satisfaction of other charges that included speeding, a lane violation, a seat belt violation and an equipment violation. Police did not detect any signs of impairment, and Demert was not charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Before the sentencing, Derenda and Bantin-Barney, both 20, told Rooth what has happened to them since that night. Ashley, wearing a brace on her right leg and using a walker, stood between her parents, Cynthia and Edward Duk, as they gathered around the judge’s bench.
“My life was completely taken from me,” Derenda said. “The best years of life were taken from me.”
Before the accident, the Orchard Park resident said she graduated from high school early and had worked 60 hours a week at two jobs to help pay for college.
She is still recovering from the injuries that left her in a coma: hemorrhaging on her brain, a crushed right leg and broken left leg. Her father said her X-rays look like jigsaw puzzles. Derenda takes 16 pills a day, is angry and depressed, and her time is filled with doctors and therapists.
“I can’t believe this is my life now,” she said.
She has had multiple surgeries, and is in for more. She has undergone physical, vision, occupational and speech therapy, and psychological counseling.
“He had no right to do this,” she said. “Why does he get to live his life when I’m still suffering?”
Bantin-Barney told the judge, “Before the accident, my life was good.”
He suffered two broken legs and head injuries, complications from medication and still has pain from the injuries..,“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” he said.
The accident occurred at about 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2012, as Demert was westbound on Southwestern Boulevard (Route 20) just west of Lakeview Road. Witnesses told police Demert pulled his red pickup into the left lane to pass a vehicle in front of him. But Derenda and Bantin-Barney were in the eastbound lane in Derenda’s white Ford Contour.
Derenda pulled over to the right, and Demert veered in front of her, one witness stated in a police report.
The witness said the front ends of both vehicles struck, and went up into the air, making an “A-shaped structure.”
Demert could have been sentenced to up to a year in jail. He will serve his three-month sentence on weekends.
Derenda said she was happy with the sentence. “He’s got his consequences,” she said. “I’m just really happy he’s not going to be on the road anymore.”
Derenda’s lawyer, Jason Luna, said he plans to seek damages in a civil suit.