ELYRIA — Alia Bailey had earned a gift card for reading, and the trip to redeem it with her mother, Nancy Burnett, forever changed the lives of those around the 6-year-old.
On that January 2017 day, the two were headed to Long John Silver’s and stopped at the light in the turn lane on state Route 57 at Cleveland Street.
“As we sat in the car at the intersection of 57 and Cleveland Street, she was playing a game on my phone,” Burnett said. “My last words to her were, ‘What game are you playing?’ She turned to look at me to answer, but this is when we were hit by Donald.”
Donald is Donald Buchs, who on Wednesday was sentenced to a mandatory 11 years in prison after entering a guilty plea earlier this year to aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges. He could have received 23 years.
Burnett, addressing Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Rothgery prior to Buchs’ sentencing, said she had assumed she’d remain childless until she had Alia after she was 40. Doctors advised her not to try for more, she said.
“For me, Alia was it, my only child,” Burnett said. “She brought excitement, happiness and a purpose. Everything our family did revolved around Alia.”
After Buchs rear-ended Burnett’s vehicle and caused a chain-reaction with four other cars, Burnett and Alia were taken to the hospital where they both underwent multiple surgeries. After a few days, doctors tested Alia for brain activity and found none, Burnett said.
“We then had to discuss turning off life support. Having to turn off the life support of your only child…” she said, trailing off as she began to cry. “This was the hardest decision of my life. Then once the decision was made, I had to sit there and watch her die at the age of 6.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said Buchs had more than seven times the legal limit of marijuana in his system when his Ford F-350 pickup slammed into the Ford Explorer driven by Burnett.
Cillo said the Buchs’ truck weighed 6,000 pounds and had a tank of diesel fuel in it that weighed another 1,500 pounds. At the moment of impact, Buchs was traveling at 70 mph, Cillo said.
Buchs pleaded guilty in May to charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault and operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance.
Burnett, who was still hospitalized as her daughter’s funeral was planned, said she couldn’t visit her daughter’s grave until five months after her death as a result of her injuries.
Juan Bailey, Alia’s father, struggled to compose himself before seeking to have the maximum sentence imposed. He, like other family members and friends who attend the court hearing, wore a shirt with a picture of Alia emblazoned on the front.
“After all, Donald gets another chance,” Bailey said. “Alia does not because of Donald’s actions to drive high and speed. He pretty much took away everything and turned our world upside-down.”
During his time to speak, Buchs apologized to the family and said the time since the accident “has just been a nightmare to me.”
“I’m sorry for us having to go through this today. I’m taking full responsibility for my actions,” Buchs said. “This was by far the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my entire life. I can’t imagine how Ms. Burnett and Mr. Bailey and their beautiful little 6-year-old daughter, Alia Bailey… I’m not a father, but I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes.”
Afterward, Burnett said his remarks seemed insincere.
“No, if just felt like he was trying to save himself and think off the top of his head,” Burnett said. “It was whatever he would come up with what he thought would help.”
Rothgery acknowledged before handing down the 11-year sentence that he realized it wouldn’t make anyone happy in that it was too short for one family, too long for another.
But he said the case was about as bad as one could get for an aggravated vehicular homicide charge.
“When you start to think about thing like the so-called ‘butterfly effect,’ what could this 6-year-old girl have done?” Rothgery said. “Cured cancer? Been a good mother herself to somebody who did something great? She just brought joy to everybody that knew her.”
Rothgery’s sentence makes Buchs ineligible for judicial release or parole. He also suspended Buchs’ driving privileges for 15 years and ordered he pay nearly $15,000 in restitution to Alia’s family. He immediately was taken into custody.
At the same time the sentencing hearing was taking place in Rothgery’s courtroom, a civil suit was being filed in the Clerk’s Office by Buchs’ insurance company, Ohio Security Insurance Co. The suit was against all of the victims in the crash saying that the policy has a $1 million per accident limit and that several companies representing victims have asserted claims on the policy.
“Due to the number of individuals involved in this accident and the severity of the injuries sustained — including, but not limited to, the death of Alia Bailey … it is likely that the damages resulting from this accident will exceed the remaining policy limit,” the suit said.
The suit said the court will need to decide how to split up the remaining funds left in the policy.
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