Driver sentenced up to 6 years in prison in fatal Parkway West crash
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An Upper St. Clair man was sentenced today to 2 1/2 to 6 years in prison for killing three people in a high-speed crash on the Parkway West in 2010.
Ryan Safka, 21, remained stoic as Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey A. Manning pronounced the sentence.
He was convicted in a bench trial in February of three counts of homicide by vehicle in the deaths of David Rizzo Jr., 20, Tara Schulz, 18, and Derek Phillips, 20, all of Upper St. Clair, who were backseat passengers in his car.
The recommended guidelines called for three to 12 months, but Judge Manning sentenced Safka to 10 months to two years on each victim, stacking the sentences consecutively, so they must be served in state prison.
He will get credit for the four months he has served on electronic monitoring since he was found guilty.
During an emotional hearing, family members of the three young people who died described the loss they've felt since learning that their loved ones had been killed on Feb. 21, 2010.
Safka was driving a Dodge Caliber inbound on the Parkway West just before 2 a.m. when he lost control of the car. It went up and over a snowbank and became airborne.
According to testimony at trial -- and information recovered from the Event Data Recorder in the vehicle -- Safka was traveling 106 mph.
However, during the hearing today, defense attorney Robert E. Stewart said that if he had the opportunity, he has an expert who would testify that at the time of the crash, the vehicle was only traveling 70 to 75 mph. During the trial, there was argument whether the so-called "black box" was scientifcally reliable to be used as evidence.
Safka was represented by Daniel Hargrove at trial, and though Judge Manning gave each side a chance to call expert witnesses regarding the EDR in the car that records speed and braking events, Mr. Hargrove said his client's family could not afford to hire one.
Judge Manning said that had the lawyer asked the court, he would have provided funds.
Mr. Stewart asked the judge to grant his client a new trial based on what he considered ineffective assistance of counsel from Mr. Hargrove, but the judge refused.
Following the sentencing, David Rizzo Sr., whose son was killed, said he was unsure of his feelings about the sentence.
"It's still not going to bring my kid back. I don't know what's enough time," he said. "He just never had a chance to live. He was only 20."
First Published June 26, 2012 1:58 pm