Merrittstown man pleads guilty to homicide while DUI

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

A Fayette County man accused of driving under the influence when he struck and killed a woman standing along Route 40 has made a second attempt to enter a guilty plea.

Donald William Lowther, 41, of 615 Plum St., Merrittstown, on Monday entered guilty pleas before Judge Nancy Vernon to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault while DUI and DUI.

In exchange, prosecutors have recommended a sentence of five to 10 years, according to court documents.

Police alleged Lowther was drunk when his car struck Kelly Jo Branson, 21, on Dec. 29 as she helped her husband change a flat tire along Route 40 near Jackson Road in Redstone.

Branson, the mother of two children, was pronounced dead at the scene, three days before her 22nd birthday.

Her husband, Adam, was hospitalized but survived.

Lowther had a blood-alcohol content of 0.105 percent within two hours of the accident, according to court documents. Pennsylvania drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher are considered to be driving under the influence.

Lowther apologized during a previous court appearance.

He entered guilty pleas to the charges earlier this year in exchange for a sentence recommendation of three to six years in prison, but he withdrew his pleas when President Judge Gerald R. Solomon “intimated” he would not accept it, according to District Attorney Jack Heneks.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic said a number of factors will determine whether Vernon will sentence Lowther in accordance with the newly negotiated plea, including his prior record and the wishes of Branson's family.

“As with any case, the probation office has to make a determination of what the defendant's prior record consists of, and once that determination is made, that will be communicated to the deceased victim's family. They can make a determination at that point whether they believe the sentence satisfactorily punishes the defendant for the crimes which he committed,” Sepic said.

“We, the district attorney's office, have asked to appear at sentencing so they can express their views to the judge,” he said.

Sentencing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 2 before Vernon.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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