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Regola case sparks calls for firm justice from parents in other cases

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 10:39 p.m.

Carol Cusmano sat quietly in a back row of a Westmoreland County courtroom last month watching the coroner's inquest into the shooting death of 14-year-old Louis Farrell.

It was a case eerily similar to that of her own son, Philip, who died in Rostraver Township more than five years earlier at the hands of a teenage friend who took a gun from an unlocked drawer in his home.

"I was told Philip would set a precedent and if it happened again the parent would be held accountable," Cusmano said last week.

On Monday, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck indicated that state Sen. Robert Regola, R-Hempfield, could face charges of reckless endangerment and possibly involuntary manslaughter in connection with Farrell's death on July 22.

Farrell died from a gunshot wound to his head. A two-day inquest is expected to conclude Thursday, when Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha will announce whether Farrell's death was determined to be a suicide, accident or a homicide.

Peck said that evidence in the inquest suggested Regola may have violated state law by allowing his then 16-year-old son, Robert "Bobby" Regola IV, to have access to a loaded 9 mm Taurus semiautomatic handgun.

Cusmano said she wants to see the senator face criminal charges.

"A gun does not belong under a 16-year-old's bed," Cusmano said.

Her son's case is one that has been frequently cited over the last seven months by representatives of the Farrell family who have been pushing for criminal charges against the Regolas.

Robert Lewis, 46, formerly of Rostraver, served more than five months in prison for reckless endangerment after leaving his 12-year-old son home alone with the weapon used in 2001 to kill the 14-year-old Cusmano boy.

Lewis' son removed a gun from an unlocked night stand and accidentally killed Cusmano. The boy was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in juvenile court.

In an interview conducted last summer, just days after the Farrell shooting, Lewis said he was no longer bitter about his prosecution but said he expected Regola to face the same criminal charge. Lewis could not be reached for additional comment.

"There was a neighbor boy who rummaged through his stuff and found a gun. I don't see any difference," Lewis said last July. "I don't feel I was treated unfairly, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander."

In 2001, Lewis' son found a gun while playing with his neighbor. Although they thought the gun had been disarmed, there was one bullet still in the chamber. Cusmano was shot once in the neck and died.

Peck argued that Robert Lewis was reckless because he left his son alone with a gun kept in an unsecured location. Lewis pleaded guilty to the charge.

"It seems as though my case set a precedent and now they've set a new precedent. There appears to be different standards for different people. A regular guy is treated differently from a state senator," Lewis said last summer.

In the intervening years, Carol Cusmano has worked to have adults held responsible when children are harmed by unattended guns.

She said parents and children should be held liable for their actions if a gun is involved.

"If (adults) neglect locking it up, then they should be responsible," said Cusmano, of Washington County. "I don't know why anyone would leave a gun out when they're not home. You're responsible for your gun. It's beyond neglect when it takes a child's life."

In addition to the Lewis case, an Irwin couple was prosecuted in 2002 for leaving their 8-year-old daughter home alone with a pet python. Robert and Marcy Mountain were charged after their daughter, Amber, died two days after she was strangled by the snake.

Robert Mountain, 31, was convicted of child endangerment and was found not guilty of a charge of involuntary manslaughter. His estranged wife, Marcy Mountain, 31, also pleaded guilty to child endangerment. The Mountains were sentenced to two years of probation.

Since her son's death, Cusmano has lobbied to change state law to make gun owners responsible for their weapons when children are involved in shootings.

On Nov. 29, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law a provision that broadens the scope of who can be held responsible in certain child endangerment cases.

The new law allows for the prosecution of employers and supervisors in cases in which children are placed in dangerous situations. The law was designed to cover instances where children had been molested by priests to allow prosecution of their supervisors.

The Senate, by a unanimous vote, approved the legislation last fall.

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