Share This Page

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 lzemba@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.