SNOW HILL — An Ocean Pines man who plead guilty to being high on PCP when he crashed his truck into a vehicle stopped at a traffic light last December, seriously injuring a mother and her then 18-month old daughter was sentenced today to 15 years in jail, all but 10 years of which were then suspended.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
In August, Andre Kaczynski, 48, of Ocean Pines, pleaded guilty to all of the 11 counts against him including causing life-threatening injuries by motor vehicle while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, possession of PCP and others and a pre-sentence investigation was ordered.
In Worcester County Circuit Court on Friday, Judge Thomas C. Groton sentenced Kaczynski to a combined 15 years in jail on five of the counts, then suspended five years resulting in a net 10 years of incarceration.
Around mid-day last Dec. 16, Kaczynski drove his Ford F150 truck into the rear of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light on Coastal Highway at a speed of over 90 mph, seriously injuring Anne Marie DelRicco and her then-18-month old daughter Ava. The child had to be extricated from the totaled vehicle and was flown to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Kaczynski’s own vehicle burst into flames and a later search of the truck revealed a bottle of PCP.
Kaczynski later admitted smoking PCP while crossing the Route 90 bridge into Ocean City and barreling up Coastal Highway before the fateful collision during which he never slowed or attempted to brake.
At the outset of the sentencing hearing, Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby asked Groton to consider a sentence of 21 years, the maximum allowed when enhanced penalties for repeat offenders were taken into consideration. Kaczynski has a laundry list of prior convictions for drugs, being under influence and driving and several crashes, including one case the judge called “eerily similar” to the case at hand in 2008 when he plowed into the back of a tractor trailer while high on marijuana.
After emotional testimony by the victim’s family and a seemingly less than contrite statement by the defendant, Groton sentenced Kaczynski to two years each for two counts of causing life threatening injuries by motor vehicle while under the influence of CDS, six years for one count of possession of PCP, four years for another count of possession of PCP and one year for one count of possession of marijuana, resulting in a total sentence of 15 years.
The judge then suspended five years, netting Kaczynski a 10-year sentence. Kaczynski was placed on supervised probation for three years following his release and was ordered to pay restitution to the family at the discretion of the Office of Parole and Probation, although a civil suit against Kaczynski is proceeding on a parallel course and will likely determine monetary damages.
On Friday, Oglesby told the judge and those in attendance to put themselves in the place of the victims prior to the crash.
“Close your eyes and imagine sitting at a traffic light,” he said. “You probably did it today, yesterday, the day before. Now, imagine in an instant everything is changed. Imagine how everything is taken from you.”
Ava suffered severe head injuries, among other injuries and required immediate surgery to relieve the swelling of her brain. She remained in a coma following the initial surgery as her family, and the entire resort community prayed for her survival. Ten months and seven surgeries later, Ava is blind and has severe brain damage, limiting her quality of life.
On Friday, Oglesby showed the judge a Christmas picture taken of Ava before the accident to illustrate just how severely the child’s life has changed.
“When I look at that picture, I see endless possibilities,” he said. “Maybe a ballerina or a doctor, a lawyer or a mother. After the crash, her milestones aren’t measured in terms of pre-school or grade school, but instead are measured in heart beats and breaths. She does have a future, but it’s a future of limited possibilities.”
Ava’s father, George DelRicco, tearfully addressed the court and told how he first learned of the accident and how he waited four hours at the hospital before finally seeing his wife and little girl. George DelRicco said in the aftermath of the accident, Ava will never know a quality of life most children enjoy.
“Our family will never be the same after Dec. 16,” he said. “I know Ava’s life will never be normal. She will not see a sunset or a rainbow. She’ll be trapped in her own world for the rest of her life.”
Anne Marie DelRicco described Ava prior to the accident as a vibrant, intelligent child.
“She was a true bright light,” she said. “She was always smiling and waving at everybody she saw. She was our little overachiever.”
Anne Marie DelRicco also described some of the family’s holiday season activities prior to the accident and how Christmas will never be the same for her and her family.
“The last thing I remember was Ava and I looking at a Christmas display,” she said. “The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital. They told me Ava was in a coma with brain damage and they weren’t sure she was going to make it through the night.”
Anne Marie DelRicco also described a life now full of doctor’s visits and constant care.
“We miss our baby Ava as we knew her,” she said. “Everything she does now will be a miracle. We have entered a new world, and we can only pray for the best for Ava. We had to buy a wheel chair instead of a Barbie bike.”
Prior to the family’s testimony, Oglesby briefly outlined Kaczynski’s long history of drug arrests, drinking and driving arrests and related vehicle crashes.
“How did we get here?” he said. “The pre-sentence investigation provides us with a road map. He has said he was sorry he didn’t have his wake-up call until after the accident, but that’s a hollow apology. For a quarter of a century, Kaczynski has been a menace and a terror on the roads of this state.”
Throughout his long history of arrests, Kaczynski has been placed on probation and parole and has received treatment for his drug and alcohol abuse, but his “wake-up call” never came until the fateful day last December.
“He’s lived a life of second chances,” said Oglesby. “He’s been given multiple opportunities to get straightened out and turn his life around. Ava and her family get no second chance. They’re sentenced to a life of pain and difficulty.”
Oglesby said no sentence handed down for Kaczynski would provide justice for the victim and her family.
“Even if you give him the maximum asked for by the state, he’ll get a second chance,” he said. “He drinks, he drugs, he drives and he crashes.”
Defense attorney Arch McFadden told the judge his client was remorseful and was on a path to never let it happen again.
“He has thrown himself into trying to figure out how he got here,” he said. “He has taken responsibility for this tragic incident.”
For his part, Kaczynski said even after his numerous arrests, crashes and near misses, he didn’t realize the extent of his addiction and the danger he posed to others.
“I guess I want to tell the family I had no idea it was this bad,” he said. “I need help. I’m done with drugs. I don’t want to even drive anymore.”
Groton was not buying Kaczynski’s claim he did not comprehend the seriousness of his addiction and threat to society.
“You said you never imagined this would happen,” he said. “You should have imagined just that, that you were an accident waiting to happen. From the beginning, you showed signs of remorse and that was positive. Now, I’m having second thoughts.”
Groton pointed to an incident when Kaczynski ran into the back of a tractor trailer while high on marijuana to illustrate his point.
“In looking at the record, I see another accident with eerily similar circumstances,” he said. “You smoked pot and crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. That was your wake-up call. That’s when you should have realized, but you didn’t.”
During an earlier confession during which Kaczynski admitted smoking PCP before the fateful crash last December, he said he used the drug for relief of chronic back pain. Groton called that admission one of the great ironies in this case.
“One of the ironies of this case is, you had a back problem, which is why you took PCP,” he said. “You took PCP because it helped with your minor pain and allowed you to work. The irony is, because of your minor problem, you have turned the DelRicco’s lives upside down. As her father said, she will be trapped in her own world for the rest of her life and all that was caused by your decision.”
At a brief post-sentencing hearing, Oglesby thanked the DelRicco family for their strength during the long battle and the Ocean City Police and his staff for their diligent and thorough investigation.
“I have sincere gratitude for the strength of the DelRicco family,” he said. “This little girl is a fighter and I have high hopes for her future. The DelRiccos and Ava are going to continue on. Regardless of the sentence today, they’re going to look forward and not backward. It’s time for the real healing to begin.”