Tonawanda News

March 15, 2013

Biker gets prison for fatal DWI

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — The motorcyclist who killed two women while driving drunk in November was sentenced Thursday in a Erie County courtroom to a term of 4 to 12 years in prison after a hearing that was packed with the victims’ emotional family members. 

David A. Smith, 53, of Niagara Falls, who has six previous drinking and driving convictions, addressed the court as well.

Smith veered off Tonawanda Creek Road in Amherst on the afternoon of Nov. 11, and killed Sheila Pelton, 81, of East Amherst, and Jocelyn Elberson, 25, of Tonawanda.

Sheila Pelton’s husband, Foster, was also seriously injured and entered the courtroom in a wheelchair Thursday. 

Five of the victims’ family members spoke Thursday while choking back tears and at times openly weeping. 

“My grandparents had been walking on a harmless bike path, and their lives were shattered,” Natalie Pelton, the Peltons’ granddaughter said. “The justice served today will ensure other families do not bear the same catastrophe.”

Elberson’s mother, Kathy, spoke about her daughter and her struggle with Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that is characterized by medical problems and learning disabilities. Elberson just had open heart surgery in January 2012, not a year prior to her death. 

“The surgeon told us that we might lose her,” Kathy Elberson said. 

But Elberson pulled through, and by the time the accident occurred, she was recovering.

“All was going so well, and we thought the worse was behind us. But then, David Smith came along,” Kathy Elberson said. 

Smith kept his head down during the families’ statements, and did not face the speakers when they spoke directly to him. But when it was Smith’s chance to speak, he cried throughout his apology. 

“This is all my fault. I’m not blaming anybody but myself,” Smith said. “I would like to personally apologize ... I can’t tell you how much I regret drinking that day. I am ready for whatever sentence the court thinks is right.” 

Following the accident, Smith was charged with first-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault and DWI. He pleaded guilty to the charges in January. 

In addition to the prison sentence, Wolfgang revoked Smith’s license and ordered him to a five years of post-release probation. Judge Penny Wolfgang could have sentenced Smith to 5 to 15 years, and said Thursday she took Smith’s remorse and his guilty plea into account. 

But Chuck Elberson, Jocelyn’s father, said he was disappointed by the sentence.

“New York state doesn’t hand out the best sentences for this kind of crime,” he said. “Something’s got to change, he didn’t learn.” 

Prior to the sentencing Thursday, the prosecutor on the case, Assistant District Attorney Kelley Omel, cited Smith’s six previous drinking and driving convictions. 

“It’s not a situation where this is his first encounter with the law,”  Omel said. “This defendant has been warned five times about drinking and driving.”

In response, Smith’s lawyer, Joel Daniels, cited Smith’s character and his commitment to his job at Dunlop, where he worked for 23 years. 

“He’s the kind of guy who, if you needed something, he was there for you,” Daniels said. “He has been driving motorcycles for most of his life, and before November, he never had an accident.” 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150