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Vandergrift driver breaks down in court over sister's death

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

KITTANNING – A Westmoreland County woman charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of her sister in a DUI-related crash in Parks last March, broke down while attempting to address the court during her sentencing on Tuesday.

Michelle Denise (Dibler) Lockard, 24, of 221 12 Washington Ave., Vandergrift, was overcome by emotion when Armstrong County President Judge Kenneth Valasek asked if she wished to speak.

Valasek broke the silence that followed Lockard's emotional breakdown by acknowledging how difficult the situation was considering she lost her 26-year-old sister, Nicole “Nikki” Denise Dibler, as a result of driving drunk and under the influence of drugs on March 18 of last year.

State police at the time said Lockard lost control of her vehicle at around 1:30 a.m. while driving along River Road after she and her sister were returning home from Lockard's bachelorette party. The vehicle rolled and landed upside down in the Kiski River. Nikki Dibler was pronounced dead at the scene.

“You've lost in several senses,” said Valasek, adding “This is a horrible circumstance. You are indeed responsible for this.”

Valasek also noted that Lockard's parents, who were present in the courtroom, also were victims in the case.

Lockard, who was initially charged with homicide by vehicle while under the influence – in addition to DUI and other driving related charges – had those charges reduced in exchange for pleading guilty in February to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

According to Valasek, Lockard's mother, Mandy Dibler, submitted a victim impact letter to the court noting how difficult the situation had been for the entire family, including Lockard's 6-year-old child.

Valasek told Lockard he would honor her mother's request for house arrest with electronic monitoring.

However, he said, “The crime does demand some punishment in connection to this horrible death of your sister.”

Lockard was sentenced to 30 months in the county's intermediate punishment program, with 15 months to be served within the confines of her residence subject to electronic monitoring, and 15 months within the restorative sanctions program.

She was ordered to pay $2,010.50 in fines and costs, must complete a highway safety course, a drug and alcohol evaluation and 30 hours of community service. She was credited with two days served.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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