Driver sentenced in girl's crash death
The scales of justice were tested Wednesday as Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning weighed a girl's death and a family's desolation against the chance that the young man who caused them may have turned his life around.
"It's a terrible tragedy when a change occurs only in response to a terrible tragedy," Judge Manning told a full courtroom at the end of the emotional sentencing hearing of Matthew Frank, 20, whose alcohol-and-drug-influenced driving caused the death of Tia Wright, 12.
Then he sentenced Mr. Frank to anywhere from one year minus one day to two years minus one day for aggravated assault while driving under the influence, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence, speeding and reckless driving. After that, he gets eight years' probation.
On April 5, 2008, Mr. Frank was 17, living in South Park, and driving with marijuana and alcohol in his blood. Tia Wright, of Pleasant Hills, was 12, being driven by her father, a nuclear power plant technician, to a friend's house shortly after competing as a drummer in a battle of the bands.
Mr. Frank's car slammed into theirs on Gill Hall Road in Jefferson Hills. Tia Wright died in the lap of her best friend, Taylor Childers, who was also injured. Karl Wright suffered crippling leg, arm and head injuries that laid him up for a year. Another friend suffered a fractured pelvis and concussion.
Members of the Wright and Childers families pleaded with the Judge Manning to arrange sentences consecutively, later saying they might have then totaled three to six years.
"Walking out, I feel shocked, but I should've been prepared," said Michele Childers, Taylor's mother. "This is in God's hands, really. I don't think anything [Mr. Frank] could do or say would've made things better, anyway."
What little Mr. Frank did say didn't persuade the victims' kin. "Throughout the past three years, I've become a very religious person," and a believer in "divine intervention," he said. "I believe that Tia Wright saved my life and was sent here to serve that purpose."
Wright family members in the courtroom visibly recoiled.
Mr. Frank's attorney, Patrick J. Thomassey, noted that his post-crash blood-alcohol content of 0.051 was below the legal limit for an adult. Because prosecutors petitioned successfully to have Mr. Frank tried as an adult, the adult limit applied, rather than the lower juvenile limit, he said.
"You know what you have, judge?" Mr. Thomassey said. "You have an accident. A horrible, horrible accident."
Mr. Thomassey also brought three witnesses to say that Mr. Frank was a changed man.
Since the accident, he learned that he has a brain tumor, for which he has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has been through juvenile offender treatment and rehabilitation programs. He has spoken to groups about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Schulte countered that he was also arrested, in June, for marijuana possession, after which he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
"You're still carrying a bag of weed around," seethed Cheri Wright, Tia's mother. "I wish you were never born, Matt Frank."
Correction/Clarification: (Published April 1, 2011) Karl Wright, father of Tia Wright, killed in a 2008 accident, was misidentified in a story Thursday.
First Published March 31, 2011 12:00 am