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Teacher: 'I just made a mistake'

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Seneca Valley Middle School special education teacher who nearly drowned when his car crashed into the Connoquenessing Creek faced a hearing on Tuesday on drunken driving charges.

“I'm not a bad guy. I just made a mistake,” a tearful Henry “Leo” Stefanacci said Thursday during a phone interview from his Zelienople home. “I'm just so embarrassed. It's tough on me and my family.”

Stefanacci had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, beyond the legal limit in Pennsylvania of 0.08 percent, when his car veered off Halstead Boulevard in Zelienople on March 3, according to a criminal complaint Zelienople police filed.

Four teenagers from the Zelienople area spotted Stefanacci's overturned vehicle and called 911. Firefighters rescued him. Stefanacci said he might have been in the frigid water for 40 minutes before help arrived.

In a March 21 interview, Stefanacci said he had been a nonbeliever but found God after his rescue.

This is the second time in two years that Stefanacci has faced drunken driving charges.

A judge sentenced him to serve a year of probation when he was accused of drunken driving in Cranberry on Sept. 4, 2011. Stefanacci in June entered the county's first-time offender program. He faced a probation violation hearing May 31 because of the latest charges.

Stefanacci, 48, is going through speech therapy as part of his recovery from the crash.

“It's going OK,” said Stefanacci, who is on medical leave from the district. “This has been a little bit of a setback. The stress isn't helping much.”

Seneca Valley Superintendent Tracy Vitale did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“I just want to teach. I just love to do that,” Stefanacci said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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