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.
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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,
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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.
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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,
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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,
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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.
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Killelea said Ettippio,
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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,
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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,
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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.