The Buffalo News by Matt Gryta - April 2, 2009
Disbarred local attorney John P. Duffy today was ordered by State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski to spend the next two and a third to seven years in prison for what the judge called his "cowardly actions" in trying to cover up a fatal hit-and-run accident last October. Duffy, 42, pleaded guilty last Oct. 30 to a leaving the scene of a fatal incident charge in the Oct. 18 hit-and-run death of Hilbert College sophomore Meghan Sorbera. He was given the maximum sentence during an emotional courtroom session.
Duffy was handcuffed and taken into custody after addresses by Sorbera's parents and brother and his own wife. He had been free pending sentencing. Duffy's wife, Tracy, began crying as she told the judge her husband is "a good man and an excellent father" to their two sons and daughter. In a somewhat rambling speech, which he partially read from prepared notes, Duffy turned in the courtroom to Sorbera's parents, Peter and Susan Sorbera of Burlington Flats, and told them he knew they "lost the most of all in this." Sorbera, 19, was struck by Duffy's SUV about 1:35 a.m. last Oct. 18 as she was walking back to the Hilbert campus on South Park Avenue with her boyfriend and a girlfriend after all three had worked that night at a haunted house at the Erie County Fairgrounds. Sorbera's parents have filed a civil suit against Duffy. Duffy told the Sorberas he "did not know I hit your daughter" as he drove off. Duffy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, claimed his subsequent coverup attempts were "not consistent" with his life's work.
He said he prays every day for a chance to overcome the "pain and suffering" he caused and said "the community deserved better from me." But he still asked for "forgiveness and mercy" from the judge, who agreed to the sentence during the plea talks last October. Daniel J. Chiachia, Duffy's lawyer and former law firm associate, told the judge Duffy is "not the monster the media made him out to be." He said that while Duffy had five drinks during a Buffalo Sabres game in Buffalo and afterward at two bars, he was not legally drunk as he drove home to Orchard Park. Chiachia admitted Duffy "acted irrationally and impulsively" in trying to get his SUV repaired outside of Buffalo after the incident. But the attorney said Duffy apparently hit Sorbera, who was wearing dark clothing, when he reached down to pick up something that fell to the floor of his vehicle. Chiachia claimed a woman driving behind Duffy also said she never saw Sorbera be hit.
Prosecutor Lynette M. Reda told the judge Hamburg town police said Duffy initially denied involvement in the accident after they tracked him down several days later. Chiachia told the judge his client's doctors feel prison will accelerate the worsening of his multiple sclerosis. The victim's parents and older brother, Peter, pleaded with the judge for the maximum seven-year prison term. The victim's father, a retired state corrections officer, and her mother said they stood by her hospital bed at Erie County Medical Center as she was declared dead about six hours after the accident and despite frantic hospital efforts to keep her alive. Mrs. Sorbera said she had always considered her daughter her "best friend" and her "twin," saying they frequently "finished each other's sentences." Peter Sorbera Jr., a Central New York high school math teacher, denounced Duffy as "a selfish coward." firstname.lastname@example.org
With news that a Hamburg area lawyer has been charged in a weekend hit-and-run that killed a 19-year-old college student as she walked home from work, the issue of drunk driving is prompting activists and bars to take a second look at drunk driving in WNY. "I believe it's another tragedy and at this point of course he's innocent until proven guilty, but I need to reiterate that drinking nd driving no matter what the amount of alcohol is.. is driving impaired," says Elizabeth Obad, president of WNY Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chapter.
Meghan Sorbera of Burlington Flats, outside Cooperstown, was hit and killed by a sport utility vehicle about 1:30 a.m. Saturday while walking home after work at a haunted house at the Erie County Fairgrounds Witnesses said the driver slowed but did not stop. Police said an investigation led to Hamburg lawyer John Duffy, 41, who turned himself in to police Tuesday evening and confessed. He was released without bail Wednesday after arraignment in town court on a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Police said they tracked Duffy down by using video from a restaurant drive-through that recorded his sport utility vehicle and its license plate minutes before the accident. Investigators got search warrants for his SUV, home and office after learning that Duffy had tried to repair damage to the SUV at his home. "The search of the residence revealed a broken headlight buried deep in a leaf receptacle and glass fragments from the garage floor," a statement from Hamburg police said.
Duffy confessed when confronted with the evidence at the police station, police said. Both Duffy's attorney, Dan Chiacchia, and police have said Duffy was drinking that night, but neither could say how much. "That really wasn't why this happened," Chiacchia said. "It was more driver inattention than anything." Chiacchia said his client did not know he had hit anyone until days after the accident. He said he thought he may have struck a trash can because when he looked behind him he saw papers flying in the air. Chiacchia said Duffy is "extremely remorseful." But police believe that Duffy knew, at least by Sunday morning, that his vehicle may have been involved in the fatal accident. "He was attempting to destroy evidence, tamper with evidence," Lt. Kevin Trask said. "That shows me he was probably trying to get away with this."