New sentencing guidelines for Homicide by vehicle while DUI

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For Carly Otto’s family, the only thing worse than losing her in a crash is the lack of remorse of the man who killed her because he drove with heroin and Xanax in his system, they said.

Brandon Vansplinter says he is sorry, but his actions following Ms. Otto’s Nov. 27, 2015, death prove he thinks of no one but himself, several of Ms. Otto’s family members said during an emotional sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon.

“She wasn’t dead a month and he was behind the wheel, driving again,” Ms. Otto’s father, Michael Otto, said. “Obviously he has no respect for authority.”

The incident helped convince Lackawanna County Judge Vito Geroulo to sentence Mr. Vansplinter to 5 to 11 years in prison instead of the roughly 3½ to 7 years his attorney sought, the judge said.

Guilty plea

Mr. Vansplinter, 23, of Scott Twp., pleaded guilty in September to drunken driving and homicide by motor vehicle while DUI. Police said he had heroin and Xanax in his blood when he struck the rear of a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in South Abington Twp., killing Ms. Otto, 26, of Dalton. He also pleaded guilty to delivery of a controlled substance in an unrelated case.

In brief comments to the court, Mr. Vansplinter apologized for the pain he caused and said he was devastated by Ms. Otto’s death.

“Carly was not just my girlfriend, she was my best friend,” he said. “I will forever live with the poor choices I made.”

Sincerity questioned

Ms. Otto’s sister, Alexandria Otto, questioned his sincerity. She said she saw Mr. Vansplinter driving on several occasions, including just after Carly’s death. The reports, which resulted in him twice being charged with driving with a suspended license, led Judge Geroulo to revoke his bail in October.

“Since these crimes have taken place, there have been many struggles we had to overcome,” Ms. Otto told the judge. “The worst by far is ... seeing the person that caused all of this tremendous heartache take every chance he’s been blessed with to make it right for granted and squander it.”

Choking back tears, she and her father described Carly as a loving and caring person. Her death devastated the family. It’s been particularly hard on her now 5-year-old daughter, who frequently asks “Why did God take my mommy?” Mr. Otto said.

Mr. Vansplinter’s attorney, Corey Kolcharno, insisted his client is remorseful. Mr. Vansplinter struggled for years to overcome a serious drug problem, he said. Ms. Otto’s death was the catalyst that pushed him to get serious about getting sober.

“Brandon unfortunately had to become sober the hard way . . . at the expense of an individual’s life,” he said.

TV show offer

In a surprise development, Mr. Kolcharno also revealed Mr. Vansplinter was contacted by a producer for the television show, 24 to Life, which follows criminal defendants in the final 24 hours before they are sentenced. The show offered him “substantial” compensation, Mr. Kolcharno said, but Mr. Vansplinter turned it down because he did not want to cause the Otto family any more heartache.

Judge Geroulo was unimpressed by the pleas for leniency. The judge noted Mr. Vansplinter has a long history of showing disrespect for authority dating back to high school. He also noted Mr. Vansplinter was on bail for another, unrelated drug charge when he caused the crash that killed Ms. Otto.

“I hear your words today. The words are there, but I do not see it in your actions,” the judge said.

Consecutive terms

The sentence — 4 to 8 years for homicide by vehicle DUI and one to three years for the drug charge — were in the aggravated range. The judge also ordered them to be served consecutively, rather than simultaneously.

Speaking after the hearing, Alexandria Otto said she had not heard about the television show offer Mr. Vansplinter received until Wednesday’s sentencing. The fact he turned it down means nothing, she said. “That’s repulsive,” she said. “He thinks he deserves a pat on the back for that? You kill someone with a car, you should not be praised for not going on a TV show.”

She said she wishes Mr. Vansplinter got a stiffer sentence, but understands the law limited what the judge could do.

“Considering the situation, I’m happy for what

he got, though 5 to 11 years will never be enough,” she said.

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