Millvale man gets 5-10 years in prison for killing girl in DUI crash
David Campbell sat with his head in his hands as he listened to his wife describe to a crowded courtroom Tuesday how the death of her 6-year-old daughter, Ava, at the hands of a drunk driver has upended their lives.
Amber Campbell recalled standing at her kitchen window, washing dishes, and watching her little girl perform flips on the rings of the jungle gym in their yard.
“I can't stand at the window anymore. Her room is empty. Her toys are dusty,” Campbell said, the last of six friends and relatives to read victim impact statements to Judge Jeffrey A. Manning. “She sits in an urn on her dresser, surrounded by her favorite things.”
Manning sentenced Travis Grayson, 22, of Millvale to serve five to 10 years in prison for killing Ava when he crashed into her and her mother with his car in Shaler after a night of heavy drinking and smoking marijuana in September 2015.
Grayson pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, three counts of driving under the influence and three counts of reckless endangerment. He will serve 10 years on probation.
Friends and family members held up photos of the blonde first-grader who attended Marzolf Primary School. Her smile in the image shows she was missing her two front baby teeth.
“I wonder how she would look with her two front teeth grown in,” her mother said.
Grayson was driving his silver 2004 Ford Mustang just after 10:30 p.m. Sept. 26, 2015, when he drove through a yard and hit Ava as she walked home with her mother and sister from a play-date on Locust Ridge Road. Ava died hours later. Her mother was injured.
David Campbell, who is the chief of Bauerstown Volunteer Fire Co., described arriving at the scene to find his daughter trapped under Grayson's car. He rode in the back of the ambulance with his daughter, and his wife rode in the passenger seat.
“I felt like the most helpless father a child could ever have,” he said.
He described telling her he loved her and telling her everything would be OK.
“She opened her eyes and muttered through her bloody mouth, ‘OK,'” he said.
It was the last he and his wife would see their daughter alive, he said.
Friends and family sobbed during the nearly 90 minutes of statements.
Grayson told police that he drank 10 beers and smoked marijuana before the crash. He told them he went around a bend too fast and “was driving like a stupid idiot,” according to the criminal complaint filed at the time. Investigators said he had been traveling up to 85 mph at the time of the crash.
His charges originally included one count of third-degree murder, which can carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. The sentence for homicide by vehicle can be up to 10 years, and involuntary manslaughter can carry up to five years. Manning assigned the sentences to be served concurrently rather than consecutively as part of the plea deal, which prosecutors made with the family's consent.
Manning called Grayson's crimes part of “the ongoing American tragedy” that is substance abuse. “Choices have consequences,” he told Grayson.
Grayson spoke briefly following the Campbell family's statements. He kept his head down and wiped tears.
“I am sorry for my poor judgment,” he said. “I hope someday you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”
David Campbell told Grayson earlier in the hearing, “You deserve no mercy.”
Court records show that Grayson was charged three times before the crash with underage drinking, and each time the charge was dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge. In such cases, state law calls for license suspensions of 90 days, one year and two years for first, second and additional underage drinking offenses, respectively.
“You stole her from the grasp of my right hand,” Amber Campbell said to Grayson. “He took all of our lives when he took Ava's.”
She said her other daughters, ages 5 and 12, can't understand why their sister is gone.
“We can't even sit at the table anymore — we eat dinner at the coffee table,” she said. “I have a 5-year-old asking me why we still put Ava's stocking up when she won't be there to look inside. I sing ‘Happy Birthday' to a tree. We have a lifelong sentence without Ava.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.