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Man gets prison for drunken crash that killed woman's daughter, unborn child

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By Bobby Kerlik
Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 2:02 p.m.

Nicole Cleland leaned on her cane Wednesday as she walked to the front of an Allegheny County courtroom to read a statement to the man who killed her 7-year-old daughter and unborn child, and injured her, in a drunken, head-on crash in the South Side.

"I hope that you think of Lexa, her unborn sibling and her sisters every day, and take your time in prison to figure out what you can do from there, and when you get out, to educate others," she said through tears to Travis Isiminger, 24, of Greene County.

"Teach them that alcohol impairs your judgment, makes you think you're invincible when you are not, that bad things can happen to you. Your decisions don't only affect you; they affect everyone in your path."

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning sentenced Isiminger to six to 12 years in prison yesterday as part of a plea deal. He will serve five years on probation.

Isiminger pleaded guilty to 15 charges, including homicide by vehicle while driving drunk and involuntary manslaughter, stemming from the Dec. 4, 2010, crash on East Carson Street that killed Lexa Cleland and her unborn sibling. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors withdrew a third-degree murder charge.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Berquist said Isiminger drank three to four liters of beer and did shots at Hofbrauhaus in SouthSide Works before getting into his Ford Mustang and plowing at 67 mph into Nicole Cleland's Toyota Camry, which carried Lexa and her 11-month-old sister, Kathleen, who survived. The crash pulverized the lower half of Nicole Cleland's body.

"I want to tell the Cleland family how truly sorry I am for the loss of their daughter and the injuries to Kathleen and Mrs. Cleland," Isiminger said as he sobbed. "I don't know any other way to apologize other than through my prayers and my conduct."

Berquist said Isiminger started drinking at 7 p.m. and left just before 10 p.m. After the crash, Isiminger's blood alcohol level was .219 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of .08 percent. Isiminger fled the crash scene on foot before a security guard by the FBI headquarters saw him and confronted him.

Nicole Cleland and her children had left a church play and were headed to pick up her husband, Mark Cleland, from work at nearby Cafe Davio before heading home to South Park.

Mark Cleland was less forgiving than his wife.

"I wanted to express my anger to you, Travis, anger to the Hofbrauhaus. This could have been prevented if either acted responsibly," Mark Cleland said. "Five hundred eight days ago, I unfortunately had to learn your name and learn that my daughter was dead. About 10 days later, I learned we had lost our unborn child."

No charges were filed against anyone with Hofbrauhaus, but the Clelands are suing the restaurant for unspecified civil damages. Hofbrauhaus general manager Tom Williams declined to comment.

"Whether you are labeled a murderer by the courts or not, you are what you are. I will be present at all your parole hearings," Mark Cleland said. "When the time comes, I hope I don't still hate you as much as I do today."

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