SMETHPORT, Pa. — “It just doesn’t take much for an accident to happen on a motorcycle. And it doesn’t take much of an accident for a horrible, horrible outcome.”
That was the message 51-year-old Cuba, N.Y., resident Raymond T. Maedl Jr. said he wants to impress upon people, he told the crowd in McKean County Court on Friday. Maedl appeared before President Judge John Pavlock to be sentenced for charges stemming from a motorcycle accident that killed his wife, Jeanie Maedl.
On April 27, Raymond Maedl was driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle with his wife as the passenger on Westline Road in Lafayette Township. District Attorney Raymond Learn said the couple had just left the Leekfest in Westline.
According to the information to which he pleaded guilty, the motorcycle went out of control while approaching a righthand bend in the road, and it struck the guardrail. Jeanie Maedl was thrown from the motorcycle.
Authorities found he had a blood alcohol content of .095 percent; the legal limit is .08 percent.
Maedl pleaded guilty Sept. 25 to charges of involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol and summary charges.
Maedl will serve nine to 23 1/2 months in McKean County Jail and 29 1/2 months of probation. Pavlock added that Maedl may petition for release from jail after five months if he either is fulltime employed for five months or completes at least 420 hours of community service by that time.
He will have to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation, too.
In his statement to Pavlock, Learn said, “These are tragic circumstances.” However, he added, “The facts are still true — that this woman is dead and it was her husband’s fault because he was drinking and driving.”
Learn referred to the faulty thinking that left Maedl in the “terrible situation” he is now in: “Thinking you can drink and drive, and that there is a safe way to do that.”
In a statement on his own behalf, Maedl talked about how his life changed because of the accident.
“Before the accident, life was great,” Maedl said. He explained the couple bought their motorcycle when their children had grown and started making lives of their own. Between grandchildren, weddings and graduations, there were always “celebrations.” The Maedls were enjoying being with friends, and they were planning a vacation for the first time in years. “The lesson I’ve learned is that in an instant your whole world can just be pulled from right out in front of you.”
Maedl said, “now my life is dark and uncertain.”
A number of friends and family members — of both Maedl and his late wife — attended Friday’s hearing to offer support for Maedl. His supporters sat united in one block, taking up several rows on one side of the courtroom. Visitors was scattered in the rest of the room.
Five made verbal statements to Pavlock on Maedl’s behalf. Additionally, Learn said court officials received 36 letters of support.
“These are the most positive letters we’ve received about a defendant, probably ever,” Pavlock noted.
Jeanie Maedl’s sister was the first to speak, saying, “Raymond is a wonderful man.” She went on to say, “He and Jeanie had a wonderful life together. He has been suffering from the moment this happened.”
She said she was close to her sister and she felt Jeanie Maedl was speaking through her in the courtroom. She said, “My sister Jeanie loved to ride a motorcycle. She chose to get on that motorcycle.”
Through their statements, a history of the couple’s time was pieced together by Maedl, his lawyer — Terrence Ging — and his supporters.
They met in high school, and shortly after were married, Raymond Maedl joined the U.S. Air Force. They started having children, and Raymond Maedl took a second job while he was still serving in the Air Force in North Carolina so the family to buy a house there.
When they moved back to this area, the Maedls were involved with their children’s lives, coaching sports teams and camping together. They talked about how the couple always wore safety gear on the motorcycle, too.
Ging indicated the Maedls helped to found the American Legion Riders, an area group that raises money for charities.
A friend of the Maedls who spent time with them at Leekfest the day of the accident talked briefly about what the group did before leaving the festival, saying they drank water, ate and danced before hitting the road. “Jeanie always made us dance,” he said.
The friend talked about the impact the accident had on him. “No more drinking and riding a motorcycle at all,” he said. “It’s all done.”
Raymond Maedl’s mother talked about her son’s life now. He moved in with her and her husband, and he works full time, volunteers at the homeless shelter in Olean, N.Y., and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counseling sessions through the VA.
One of the Maedls’ sons also spoke about the impact the criminal case has had on the family. “There’s nothing that’s going to benefit from him going to jail,” he told Pavlock. “We can’t grieve. We can’t move on without my dad.”
While Maedl was facing a jail sentence, Ging said he felt Raymond Maedl could “make a bigger impact” on others by sharing his story rather than going to jail.
Ging added, “There’s no sentence you can impose that is harsher than what he’s already gone through.”
While Pavlock indicated he didn’t doubt Maedl had earned the support he was receiving, he said there were other factors he had to consider in his sentence such as rehabilitation, punishment, the sentencing guidelines and the message that goes to the community.
Pavlock said as far as the message to the community, he agreed Maedl could speak to groups about what happened, but was worried what would happen when someone in the crowd asked what his sentence was. He did not feel it would send a good message if Maedl did not serve jail time.
Pavlock granted a request from Ging asking the sentence not begin until after the holidays. Learn did not object to the request.
Maedl is to report to jail at 5 p.m. Jan. 2, and his bail conditions will remain in place until that time.