SMETHPORT, Pa. — A sentencing hearing for Emily Schultz, the Port Allegany woman convicted in a crash that killed her friend, Emily Schena, was an emotional one.
Schultz, 23, went before President Judge John Pavlock on Thursday morning in McKean County Court to learn her fate. She had pleaded guilty April 3 to misdemeanor charges of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
In the hearing, which lasted about 50 minutes, Pavlock sentenced her to a term of 11 1/2 to 23 1/2 months in McKean County Jail and 23 1/2 months of probation. She is to complete at least 280 hours of community service, but if she completes 420, she can petition for early release after nine months.
Schultz is to have no contact with Ms. Schena’s immediate family members unless they request otherwise. Additionally, she will pay a $1,000 fine and $15,254.23 in restitution for the funeral, flowers, wages lost to Ms. Schena’s father when he was completing arrangements, outstanding hospital bills and the death certificate.
District Attorney Ray Learn said on Schultz’s plea date that between the night of Jan. 13 and the early morning of Jan. 14 in 2013, Schultz was driving a car with Ms. Schena as the passenger after they both had been drinking alcohol, when, at Fogel Crossing, Schultz’s car went off the road, struck a railing on a bridge and overturned into a stream. Ms. Schena was not able to get out of the car and was later pronounced dead due to cold-water drowning.
Schultz was under the influence of alcohol and Depakote and was looking down at her cellphone at the time of the crash, Mr. Learn had said.
Schultz stood before a courtroom full of people Thursday morning, hearing from others about the impact Ms. Schena’s death had on their lives before speaking on her own behalf.
Greg Schena, Emily’s father, told Judge Pavlock he hoped “the outcome of this could somehow make a difference in preventing events of the same nature.”
Mr. Schena spoke of his own grief, describing his daughter as encouraging and compassionate.
“Our hopes and dreams changed in a second (the day she died),” he said.
Mr. Schena noted that more than 1,000 people attended his daughter’s funeral.
“Your Honor, this tragedy has broken our hearts and the hearts of all who knew her,” he said.
The victim’s father asked that Schultz receive the maximum sentence allowable as “a great reminder to the severity of consequences.”
Heather Schena, Emily’s sister, also spoke at the hearing. She said her sister’s death was tragic not only for her own grief, “but also for the angst that the Schultz family must be feeling.”
Heather Schena explained that she is a Christian and, through her beliefs, has learned to forgive.
“I do forgive Emily Schultz,” she said. However, she added, “I have also learned that one must be responsible for their actions.”
Mr. Learn said the case was “difficult,” not just because of the subject of the case, but also because of the legal content.
As Schultz’s attorney, Dennis Luttenauer, explained later at the hearing, the factual basis she pleaded guilty to indicated, “the accident can’t be proved to be caused by DUI,” but that it was “due to negligence and distracted driving.” In the plea agreement, a charge of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance was dismissed.
Mr. Luttenauer said his client feels “deep remorse” for the incident. He noted that she had no criminal record and the charges to which she was convicted are misdemeanors, saying, “I believe a state (prison) sentence is way beyond the pale.”
Prior to sentencing, Schultz spoke on her own behalf, through tears. She reminded Judge Pavlock that she wrote him a letter but said she felt it would be “more genuine” coming from her in person.
Schultz mentioned Ms. Schena’s family members and said, “I do understand why they feel the way they do.”
She talked about her own grief over losing her best friend. “Every day I wake up knowing that I lost someone who was like a sister to me,” said Schultz, adding she would “switch places with her in a heartbeat.”