WILKES-BARRE — For Rebecca Wahlers, June 15, 2012 was the worst night of her life.
She was with friends and her boyfriend, Corey Ryan, 20, walking across South River Street in Wilkes-Barre when a vehicle driven by Danielle Castrignano came at them dangerously slow.
Wahlers jumped out of the way at the last minute as Castrignano’s vehicle struck Ryan, who was in a wheelchair.
“I saw him get hit … I saw him hit the pavement,” Wahlers said Thursday at a hearing at which Castrignano was sentenced to one to two years in state prison on a related charge. “Seeing (the) expression on his face … it was the worst night of my life.”
Castrignano, 21, of Holiday Drive, Kingston, was sentenced on a charge of accidents involving death or personal injury to which she had pleaded guilty in February.
Ryan, who was paralyzed in a car crash in 2011, died June 29 in Hospice Community Care in Dunmore.
Castrignano told investigators she thought she had struck a shopping cart, according to the criminal complaint.
City police said Castrignano drove away after striking Ryan and turned onto the Market Street Bridge into Kingston. A surveillance camera recorded the vehicle on the bridge.
Police recovered Castrignano’s vehicle parked outside the Woodlands Inn & Resort in Plains Township. She turned herself in to police several hours later.
“I’m truly, truly very remorseful,” Castrignano told Judge David Lupas on Thursday. “No sentence that I am given will be equivalent to (Ryan’s) life.”
Castrignano said she was not using drugs or alcohol the night of the accident and she believed she had struck a shopping cart.
“I truly didn’t know that I hit a person,” Castrignano said, telling Ryan’s family that she cannot express how sorry she is for the accident.
Ryan’s mother and sister also testified Thursday, telling Lupas about Ryan, whom they described as charming, likeable, talented, reliable and hard-working.
“My heart longs to see my son,” Debbie Ryan said, noting she wonders what kind of husband and father he would have been.
Corey Ryan was injured in an accident in which a friend was drinking and driving. Debbie Ryan said her son, who was paralyzed, began making strides and recovering to the point where he was independent, getting an apartment with Wahler’s just two weeks before his death.
“It was supposed to be the beginning of his life … not the end,” Wahler said.
Castrignano’s parents spoke about their daughter struggling with an addiction to heroin and completing a 30-day rehabilitation program.
She was 30 days sober when the accident involving Ryan happened and is eager to get her life back on track, Deborah Castrignano said.
Deputy District Attorney Alexis Falvello noted that Danielle Castrignano has been serving a prison sentence for probation violations and has several other criminal charges against her, including possessing drug paraphernalia and arguing with police officers.
While incarcerated, Falvello said, Castrignano has had five misconducts, including two involving drugs.
Lupas said Castrignano’s state prison sentence will be consecutive to the probation violation sentence she is serving that ends in June.
Castrignano’s attorney, Peter Moses, compared his client’s case to other hit-and-runs in the area where defendants did not turn themselves in. In three of those cases suspects have not been found.
Moses said Castrignano’s case is different, and she should have received some consideration because she turned herself in and pleaded guilty to related charges.