Man gets 7 years in Fayette DUI death
A Uniontown man whose wife was killed by a drunken driver last year told Donald William Lowther during a sentencing hearing Friday that he had robbed his children of their mother.
“She was my soulmate, my best friend and mother of my two beautiful children. She was a sweet and devoted mother and wife,” Adam Branson said.
Branson's wife, Kelly Jo Branson, died in the Dec. 29 accident along Route 40 in Redstone. She was three days from her 22nd birthday.
Lowther, 41, of Merrittstown pleaded guilty in October to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and aggravated assault while DUI.
Judge Nancy Vernon on Friday sentenced him to a prison term of 5 to 10 years on the first charge and 2 to 4 years on the second charge. He will serve a minimum of seven years for the consecutive sentencings.
Adam Branson said Friday that he is still recovering from a closed head wound and arm injuries he sustained in the accident.
His wife's parents, John and Karla Hyatt, lost their only child, Branson said.
“That night changed everything. It changed me, it changed my children. ... You've taken a great, great, important thing out of our lives,” Adam Branson said in court.
He handed Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic family photos to show to Lowther.
“These are what I want you to see, see what you took that night and made my kids lose,” Branson said.
Daughter Macie Jo is 1 1⁄2 years old, and son Dakota Gunner is 3, he said.
Lowther agreed to the sentence yesterday, an increased penalty from an earlier negotiated plea bargain of 3 to 6 years in prison.
He withdrew his pleas earlier this year when President Judge Gerald R. Solomon “intimated” he would not accept the plea bargain, according to District Attorney Jack Heneks.
The family also sought a stiffer sentence, Branson's personal attorney, Louise Monaghan, said Friday.
“Mr. Lowther, I would never have accepted the original plea offer in this case,” Vernon said.
She noted his previous criminal record, and that he caused the Branson family “pain and suffering” that is “beyond comprehension.”
“You entered into a vehicle that night, and you destroyed a family,” Vernon said.
According to court documents, Lowther had a blood-alcohol content of 0.105 percent within two hours of the accident. Pennsylvania drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher are considered to be driving under the influence.
Police said Lowther's car struck Branson as she helped her husband change a flat tire near Jackson Road.
The couple, who were married for three years, were wearing neon-green safety vests and had activated their car's hazard lights.
“They did everything right” to be visible to vehicles on the roadway, Sepic said Friday.
“There was no reason for (Lowther) not to have seen both victims in the roadway as well as their car ... and try to avoid a collision,” Sepic said.
Kelly Jo Branson was pronounced dead at the scene. Her husband was hospitalized for his injuries.
Lowther declined to address the court prior to sentencing.
After Adam Branson's statement, Lowther stood and briefly turned toward the man.
“I'm very sorry. ... I know I gotta live with the nightmares and everything,” he said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.