ELYRIA — A Cleveland man was sentenced to nine years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide in connection with an August 2016 motorcycle crash that killed 21-year-old Sara Bevelacqua.
Justin Tancak, 21, pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, failure to comply with order or signal of police, OVI, willful or wanton disregard of safety on highways and other charges last month in connection with the Aug. 20, 2016, incident. Prior to being sentenced by Judge James Miraldi Friday morning, Tancak addressed the court saying he “loved the girl to death.”
“I just want to say how sorry I am,” Tancak said while addressing Bevelacqua’s family. I don’t expect you guys to forgive me. I don’t expect you guys to accept my apology, but I want you guys to know how deeply sorry I am from the bottom of my heart.
“If I could trade places with her, to give you guys Sara back, I would. Every day I wish that.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Donna Freeman told a different story, though, saying the defendant “had shown no remorse at all.”
Freeman said Tancak intentionally smoked marijuana, drank alcohol underage and then forced Bevelacqua to get on the back of his motorcycle, even though she made it clear she didn’t want to.
“Justin Tancak intentionally forced Sara to stay on his motorcycle while she was begging to get off the back of it,” Freeman said. “He was locking his brakes and doing wheelies with her on the back of the bike as she was crying to get off the bike.”
The Ohio Highway Patrol reported at the time of the crash that Tancak was heading north on state Route 57 about 2:35 a.m. when his Kawasaki motorcycle went off the left side of the road near state Route 10. Bevelacqua was thrown from the bike and died at the scene, while Tancak received only minor injuries in the crash.
During the sentencing hearing, it was said that Tancak was involved in a high-speed chase with Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies at the time of the crash. Witnesses have told police and prosecutors that Tancak had been overheard talking about “speed kills and cop chases,” how “he liked to flee from police on his motorcycle” and how he got a “thrill” from such chases.
Freeman said one witness told police he was riding beside Tancak and the defendant was riding too fast and reckless. The witness said Tancak was locking his brakes and Bevelacqua was “begging to get off the back of the bike.”
The state also played jail calls recorded after Tancak’s guilty plea to the indictment in which he said he had to “pay the piper.” In one call to his new girlfriend, according to Freeman, Tancak said “this sh-- ain’t even depressing” and that he was going to walk out of the courtroom after sentencing with a smile “diddy bopping in chains and shackles.”
Tancak’s defense attorney, Mike Duff, said his client was just trying to seem tough because that’s what you have to be when you go to prison.
In another call Tancak told a friend he was going to have some birthdays to make up for after being in prison and planned to go to bars and act like it was his 21st birthday. Freeman said Tancak received another OVI in Parma, while out on bond in the Lorain County case.
“He needs to get the maximum,” the victim’s father, John Bevelacqua, said. “He does not deserve to get a break in any way, shape or form. Our family has been ruined. She was a very loving child. It’s just unbelievable.”
Tancak’s mother, Rebecca Tancak, apologized for her son’s actions.
“The choice my son made has changed everybody’s lives that day,” she said. “We know he did wrong, and I feel that you will do what is right for Justin. I would just like to apologize to her family because we also loved Sara.”
Miraldi said he understands that Tancak suffers from the disease of addiction, but the defendant’s actions were very troubling. The judge said Tancak “played Russian roulette with someone else’s life.” He also said he felt Tancak had shown some remorse by pleading guilty in the matter.
Tancak had faced a maximum of 11 years in prison. In addition to the nine-year prison sentence, Tancak also was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution and had his driver’s license suspended for life.