New York Driver Gets Prison for Deadly Wrong Way Crash

August 16, 2012

A driver was sentenced Monday to 3 1/2 to 10 1/2 years in prison for a drunken wrong way crash that killed two people on a Buffalo expressway last year.

“I made the worst decision of my life that night,” Matthew Ruckdaschel, 26, an Army veteran and former high school hockey standout, told the judge during his sentencing in Erie County Court.

Ruckdaschel, of the Buffalo suburb of Getzville, pleaded guilty in April to aggravated vehicular homicide. He admitted he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs when his pickup struck an SUV head-on at 78 mph on the Kensington Expressway about 4:45 a.m. on Jan. 22, 2011. A blood test showed his blood-alcohol content was .22 percent, nearly three times the legal threshold for drunken driving. Marijuana also was detected, prosecutors said.

“I hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me for what I have done,” Ruckdaschel said to the family of victims Orlando Anderson, 37, a rental agent and father of three from Buffalo, and his cousin, Thomas Johnson, a 42-year-old carpenter and father of five from Cleveland, Ohio.

The victims’ relatives asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 8 to 25 years in prison and reacted angrily to the lesser term. Some stood up and left the courtroom, shouting “What?” and “No!” when they heard it. They did not speak to reporters afterward.

In the courtroom, Anderson’s mother, Christine Anderson, said her son’s life was cut short “due to the stupidity and immaturity of Matthew Ruckdaschel,” leaving her son’s children to face life without their father’s love and guidance.

“Matthew was reckless and didn’t think about anyone else but himself,” said Johnson’s sister, Charlotte Simms. “Judge, you need to give him the maximum time allowed.”

Defense attorney Joel Daniels said Ruckdaschel, who served three years in the Army, is reminded daily of the crash by his constant physical pain. Ruckdaschel attended the sentencing in a wheelchair and is unable to walk more than 50 feet at a time, the lawyer said.

“There are no winners here, judge,” Daniels said. “It’s very sad.”

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