CLEARFIELD – A jury deliberated for approximately 50 minutes this afternoon before finding a DuBois woman guilty of injuring another woman while driving drunk and causing an accident Oct. 14, 2012 on Route 119 in Sandy Township.
Kathryn Marie Bembenic, 31, of DuBois was found guilty of aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI; DUI; and recklessly endangering another person. She was found not guilty of accidents involving death or personal injury.
Judge Paul E. Cherry presided over the trial. Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth; Bembenic was represented by defense attorney Ron Collins.
After the verdict, Shaw addressed the court about modifying bail for Bembenic with her being found guilty of the aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI charge. Collins requested for Bembenic to remain on unsecured bail, as she has family here and has always appeared for court.
Cherry said bail would remain at $25,000 unsecured for Bembenic but with supervisory conditions. When asked after court, Shaw cited community safety concerns for his request in bail conditions.
“I wanted some surety that she’ll comply with the no alcohol conditions,” said Shaw. “I don’t want her out to possibly injure someone else or heaven forbid kill someone. I think she has a drinking problem and poses a danger to the community.”
So far as the jury’s not guilty verdict on accidents involving death or personal injury, Shaw said the commonwealth felt the charge was appropriate. He pointed out that instead of calling for help, Bembenic called her dad. A bystander, he said, called 9-1-1 to come help the victim after a tragic accident. Shaw noted that, “Because you’re drunk, it doesn’t excuse you from your duties.”
Bembenic will appear for sentencing court within 60 days. She will likely face a minimum of nine to 16 months of incarceration and a maximum of 10 years, according to Shaw. Also, he said Bembenic faces a fine, which he would like to be nominal; instead, he would like the victim, April McClain of Stump Creek, to get compensation for what will become “a lifetime of agony.”
“You know, Bembenic will do some jail time and some probation and be done,” said Shaw. “McClain will deal with this for the rest of her life. It’s not fair.”
Yesterday, McClain told jurors she was on her way to work in DuBois at approximately 5:47 a.m. Oct. 14, 2012. When she approached the intersection of Route 119 and Stanley Bottom Road, she observed headlights.
At first, McClain said she didn’t realize the headlights of the other vehicle were in her lane of travel. She realized seconds later and applied her brakes, not having adequate time to swerve and avoid the oncoming vehicle.
Upon impact McClain said her Chevy Blazer overturned onto its passenger’s side. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident and ended up being positioned backwards in the passenger’s seat.
McClain said her head was near the windshield. Her arm was hanging out the passenger’s side window and trapped by her vehicle. “I was stuck,” she said. “I couldn’t move.”
According to her, a gentleman approached her Blazer and called 9-1-1. When paramedics arrived at the scene, she said they attempted to extricate her numerous ways and it ultimately took them approximately 90 minutes to do so.
McClain said she was transported to a nearby field and then flown to the trauma unit at UPMC Altoona. She said the medical staff explained they wanted to relocate her hip and that they would tell her more after.
“But the pain told me more than the doctors. It was off the charts,” she said. “It was just throbbing, just stabbing.” The next day, McClain said she underwent surgery for her hip fracture; one day after surgery, she started her physical therapy rehabilitation.
After spending four days in the hospital, McClain said she was released but received in-home therapy for six weeks. She also wasn’t permitted to put any weight on her left leg during that timeframe. Afterwards, McClain received 12 weeks of physical therapy outside of her home and also had to change jobs due to the pain from being on her feet all the time.
When asked about the present function of her hip, she said it’s considerably better but not the same as it was prior to the accident. She said every day she experiences discomfort and fears the financial effects of future hip replacements.
Arresting Officer Curtis Marino of the Sandy Township police testified yesterday about the accident investigation. Upon arrival to the scene, he observed a Blazer on its side and a pick-up truck farther off the roadway.
When he approached Bembenic, he immediately smelled the odor of alcohol. He said it was like someone had “dumped beer on her.” She told Marino, “I shouldn’t have been driving.”
Marino asked Bembenic what had occurred to which she said, “I had too much to drink, and I hit that car.” He took her to the flat section of Route 119 for field sobriety testing. However, Marino testified that after starting the heel and turn, Bembenic told him she was “too drunk” to do so.
When Bembenic eventually agreed to submit to a blood test, Marino said the Erie Crime Laboratory analysis showed her blood alcohol content was 0.217 percent.
Upon further investigation, Marino found McClain had been traveling northbound; Bembenic was wrongly traveling southbound in the same lane as McClain. The accident, he said, occurred approximately 20 feet from Stanley Bottom Road in McClain’s lane of travel on Route 119.