ELYRIA — Just before he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, an Elyria man struggled Wednesday to apologize to the family of a woman he killed in a 2007 drunken driving crash.
“Drema Uehlein passed away that night because I screwed up,” Richard Neal said to Uehlein’s family.
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers found Neal, 38, guilty of vehicular homicide, DUI and driving under suspension in July following a bench trial. He cleared Neal of an additional DUI charge and two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide stemming from the June 2007 crash.
Uehlein’s family and Assistant County Prosecutor Sherry Glass urged Ewers to impose the maximum sentence and also said they disagreed with his decision to clear Neal of the more serious aggravated vehicular homicide charge.
Ewers bristled at that, telling the Uehlein family that he followed the law and that he didn’t show Neal leniency by clearing him of those charges. He said he sympathized with them because his own father was killed in a car crash by a driver whose blood-alcohol level was just under the legal limit. That driver was never charged, he said.
An Ohio Highway Patrol trooper who testified during the trial concluded that drinking and negligence didn’t cause the accident.
“The trooper said the cause of the crash was failure to yield,” Ewers said.
Neal turned his 1997 Nissan Sentra into the path of Uehlein’s motorcycle while he was turning left into the driveway of AMVETS Post 32 on Middle Avenue. Uehlein went through the windshield of Neal’s car.
Uehlein’s husband, Gerald Uehlein, was inside the club at the time and came outside to find his wife’s motorcycle on the side of the road.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Gerald Uehlein complained that Neal had tried to dodge responsibility for killing the woman he described as his best friend.
“You snuffed out the life of my wife, a mother of two,” he told Neal.
Neal said he was traumatized by the crash and felt terrible.
“I can’t ask you for forgiveness because I can’t forgive myself,” he said.
Ewers also imposed a five-year driver’s license suspension on Neal, which, like the prison sentence, was the maximum allowed under law.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.