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Published: Saturday, 7/8/2006

Driver gets 10 years for 3 passenger deaths

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toni Singleton reacts to the sentence given to Brian Gerwin, who overturned his car in a 2004 drunken-driving accident, killing three of his passengers, including her son Travis Druckenmiller. She is comforted by Rex McKnight. Toni Singleton reacts to the sentence given to Brian Gerwin, who overturned his car in a 2004 drunken-driving accident, killing three of his passengers, including her son Travis Druckenmiller. She is comforted by Rex McKnight.
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FREMONT - A Fremont driver whose admitted drug and alcohol abuse resulted in the deaths of three of his passengers received a 10-year-sentence yesterday, a punishment the victims' families said will never compensate for their tragic losses.

Brian Gerwin, 28, pleaded guilty in May before his case was to go to trial in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court.

Brian Gerwin enters the courtroom for his sentencing. Brian Gerwin enters the courtroom for his sentencing.
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Judge Harry Sargeant sentenced Gerwin to three years in prison for each charge of aggravated vehicular assault with specifications for drunken driving and one year for one count of vehicular assault. The sentences will run consecutively.

Leon Garza, Sr., whose son, Leon, Jr., was among the dead, said the sentences were not long enough.

"No, not even close," he said. "To us, he should have gotten life [in prison]," said Mr. Garza. "He killed three boys."

Gerwin could have received 16 1/2 years.

In a statement he read in court, Mr. Garza said "there won't be a day when our hearts are not filled with pain."

"We'll never hear Leon tell us that he's home again," he said in an emotion-choked voice.

Claudia Frater, center, reads a statement to the court during the sentencing of Brian Gerwin. She is joined by her daughter Michelle Lindsay, left, and the victim's advocate Sue Jenkins. Claudia Frater, center, reads a statement to the court during the sentencing of Brian Gerwin. She is joined by her daughter Michelle Lindsay, left, and the victim's advocate Sue Jenkins.
ALLAN DETRICH/THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Investigators said Gerwin was driving south of Buchanan Road and went through a stop sign at McGormely Road, then veered off the road and overturned several times sometime before 4 a.m. Nov. 4, 2004. All five occupants were thrown from the vehicle.

Killed were Leon Garza, Jr., 21, of Fremont; Travis T. Druckenmiller, 21, of Clyde; and James W. Garst, Jr., 23, of Fremont.

A fourth passenger, Aaron Pedaraza, 21, of Fremont, was left with a paralyzed left leg.

Mr. Pedaraza, in court for the sentencing, said afterward that he walks with a brace and has a rod in his femur.

Gerwin, who also was injured, initially denied he was driving. A blood-alcohol test administered at Fremont Memorial Hospital was ruled inadmissible because the personnel who administered it were not certified in that type of test for use in court.

His defense attorney, Lucinda Weller, told Judge Sargeant that Gerwin couldn't recall much about the accident. Whether that is because of the trauma or the alcohol and drugs, "we don't know," she said.

It wasn't until later, she said, that his memory of the accident came back and he contacted her to admit his role.

"He understands what his actions caused," she said.

Gerwin read an apology to the families. He said he doesn't know why he did what he did, adding that he wanted to "express my sincere regret and an apology" to the families.

Claudia Frater described the night she received the call from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, telling her that Mr. Garst was gravely injured and in a coma.

She said she told the nurse to hold her son's hand and to keep telling him "that his mother was on the way" and to hold on until she could get there.

"It was a horrible sight," she said, sobbing in the hushed courtroom. "I screamed and fell on my knees. I wanted to die right there. It wasn't right."

Many of the more than 100 spectators wept; others dabbed their eyes as they listened to the families.

Gerwin stared blankly ahead, his eyes slightly lowered. His attorney sat with her eyes downcast, her hands occasionally shaking as the six crying family members described their grief.

Toni Singleton, mother of Mr. Druckenmiller, also told of her call from the hospital when she lost her first-born son. Her daughter, Becky Etzwiler, addressed the court too.

"All my children miss him every day," Mrs. Singleton said.

Judge Sargeant scolded Gerwin.

"Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident by the defendant," the judge said, citing Gerwin's numerous traffic citations and frequent tickets for speeding. "Life was one big party of alcohol and [cocaine] every night."

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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