CLEARFIELD – A DuBois woman was sentenced to jail for causing an accident while intoxicated.
Kathryn Marie Bembenic, 31, 118 Wilson Ave., DuBois, was found guilty of aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, DUI, recklessly endangering another person and summaries after a trial in March. Judge Paul Cherry sentenced her to serve 11.5 months to two years less one day in the Clearfield County Jail and five years consecutive probation for the aggravated assault charge and a consecutive period of 72 hours to six months in jail for the DUI charge.
She was fined a total of $1,670 plus costs. She must pay restitution of more than $38,800 plus an anticipated fee of $100,000 to the victim for future hip replacement surgeries. Cherry also ordered her to speak to young people at local schools about the dangers of drinking and driving.
The charges stem from an accident in Sandy Township on Oct. 14, 2012 when Bembenic’s vehicle struck another vehicle head-on. The driver of the second vehicle suffered injuries to her hip that required surgery.
Prior to sentencing, the victim, April McClain, addressed the court explaining how the injuries from the accident continue to cause her problems. Her doctors have told her that she will need at least two more surgeries in her lifetime.
“I will never know life without pain,” she said. She is concerned about whether she will be able to hold her child or work until she reaches retirement age.
McClain’s sister spoke about how her life has been impacted since she “almost lost” her sister. She helps care for her sister and when she plans vacations she has to take into consideration her sister’s disability.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. argued for a state prison sentence because of the long-term effects on the victim. “For the rest of her life, she will have to live with this disability,” he said. “It’s not fair to her (McClain) to give a minimal sentence.”
Shaw asked Cherry to “give April the justice she deserves today and the justice she deserves 50 years from now.”
Ron Collins, attorney for Bembenic, defended his client, saying “she is devastated by this” and noting when her jail sentence is done, she will not be finished because she will continue to feel the guilt. He said Bembenic deserves mercy and a fair sentence.
Bembenic’s brother spoke on her behalf explaining that immediately after the accident Bembenic went into a “severe depression.”
Bembenic addressed the court taking responsibility for what she did and saying she couldn’t “feel more sorry” for the victim and her family.
“I am extremely sorry,” she said, adding that if she could take it back, she would. She offered to speak to others so they can avoid her mistake.
Before announcing the sentence, Cherry stated that he had received many letters written on Bembenic’s behalf most of which mentioned her children. He noted that she was not thinking of her children when she “exercised poor judgment” and got behind the wheel that morning.
“Fortunately her injuries were not more severe,” Cherry said of the victim, adding that Bembenic’s actions have had a lasting effect on the victim’s entire family.
He said he hoped that she has learned her lesson and does not set foot in the courtroom again. He warned her that if she even thinks of taking a drink, she needs to remember him, because if she drinks and violates her probation, she will go to state prison.
Testimony in the trial revealed that the victim, McClain, 27, of Stump Creek, was driving to work at 5:45 a.m. that morning in October on Route 119 toward DuBois near Stanley Bottom Road when she saw headlights coming in her direction.
As they got closer, she realized the vehicle was in her lane. She hit her brakes but the vehicle struck her. Her vehicle overturned and came to rest on the passenger’s side. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was thrown upside down to the passenger side where she was trapped with her arm outside the window. She remained trapped for about 90 minutes and was then transported to the trauma center in Altoona.
McClain was sedated and her dislocated hip put back in its socket but surgery was required to repair it. She continued to have physical therapy for 18 weeks.
Bembenic testified that she was drinking with friends at an individual’s home that she did now know well. She drove the vehicle, which she had borrowed from her father’s friend, to this residence. The plan was for the group to spend the night there. She had three or four mixed drinks before falling asleep on a couch around 4:30 a.m. But when she woke an hour later, her friends were gone and she was alone with the man she didn’t know well who was asleep on another couch. She then decided to leave.
Bembenic drove only three or four miles before the accident occurred.