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Parents 'appalled' at sentence in fatal crash

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By Bobby Kerlik
Thursday, March 31, 2011

The parents of a 12-year-old Pleasant Hills girl killed in a drunken high-speed crash said a jail sentence of one to two years for the man responsible is preposterously light.

"I'm absolutely appalled. He gets one year for killing my daughter and crippling me," said Karl Wright, who was severely injured in the April 5, 2008, accident that killed his daughter Tia. "Obviously, no amount of time would satisfy me, but after one year, he'll be free and clear. Our family is sentenced for life."

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning on Wednesday sentenced Matthew Frank, 20, of Montgomery County, formerly of South Park, to the jail time plus eight years of probation after listening to more than an hour of pleas from Wright's family for a harsh sentence. The judge fined him $1,500 and ordered him to pay court costs.

Manning said he relied on the sentencing guidelines in imposing the sentence.

"There's nothing this court can do in this or any other case to properly compensate the victims for the horrific physical and emotional damage," Manning said.

Frank pleaded no contest in December to three counts of aggravated assault by vehicle and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter.

Frank sat with his head bowed and wiped tears away during the hearing. He told the judge he wished he could switch places with Tia.

"I've become a very religious person and a firm believer in divine intervention, and I believe Tia Wright saved my life and was sent here for that purpose," Frank told the judge.

Karl Wright was driving his daughter and her best friend, Taylor Childers, on Gill Hall Road in his pickup when Frank's GMC Envoy crossed the center line and slammed into them head-on at more than 70 mph, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Schulte said.

Childers described her graphic memories of the moments after the crash when she regained consciousness to find her best friend dead in her lap.

"I was covered in blood and glass. I woke up to sirens. I looked over and Mr. Wright was still unconscious," Childers said. "I saw the back of Tia's head on my left leg. That's the last time I saw my best friend.

"I couldn't sleep for months."

Childers suffered a concussion, a broken wrist and leg injuries. Karl Wright said he had to attend his daughter's funeral on a gurney and was forced to use a wheelchair for eight months because of injuries to his legs and arms.

Tia's mother, Cheri Wright, had pointed remarks for Frank.

"I wish you were never born, Matthew Frank," Wright said. "So what, Matthew Frank, are you going to do with your life for killing my daughter?"

Prosecutors said Frank was drinking and smoking marijuana in the hours before the crash. His blood alcohol level was 0.051 percent when he was tested after the wreck, Schulte said.

Frank's attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said if his client had been of legal drinking age, prosecutors wouldn't have been able to prove he was over 0.08 percent -- the limit for adults to drive.

"If you take that out of the equation, you have a horrible accident," Thomassey said. "That's what this was -- a tragic accident."

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