DOYLESTOWN — A 27-year-old Perkasie woman has been sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison after pleading guilty July 8 to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence charges in connection with the Dec. 16, 2018 crash that killed 56-year-old Tsegai Gebremichael, of Sellersville.
Gebremichael was pronounced dead at the scene following the crash about 5:23 a.m. on Route 113 between Moyer Road and Hamilton Street in the Blooming Glen part of the township, Hilltown Township Police Department said.
Danae Swartz, of the 1000 block of Deerfield Court, Perkasie, told investigators that she had taken multiple vodka drinks and synthetic marijuana tablets in the hours before the crash, court documents said. Her blood alcohol content level was 0.169 percent, Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Robert James said.
The crash happened after the right wheels of Swartz's vehicle went off the road and the vehicle began to spin counter clockwise, crossed into the other lane and was perpendicular to the road when the two vehicles hit, investigators said.
Born in Senafe, Eritrea, Gebremichael was a postal carrier for about 10 years, a volunteer soccer coach, married for 30 years and father of five, according to obituary information.
Gebremichael also had other jobs and was coming from one of those when the crash happened, information given in court said.
"Tsegai stood out for his unflagging sense of joy and contentment. As the primary provider for his family he set an example for us all as a diligent and uncomplaining worker. He never failed to give thanks for his many jobs, however menial, and even when they required long hours and early Sunday mornings," Trinity Orthodox Presbyterian Church Pastor Larry Westerveld wrote in a victim impact letter that Westerveld read aloud in court. The letter was signed by 118 persons who are members and friends of the church in Hatboro that Gebremichael's family has been part of for more than 20 years, Westerveld said.
"Tsegai was a committed Christian, a faithful presence at Trinity Church and a constant source of encouragement to us all. We noticed his absence on the morning he died and we have noticed it every Sunday since," Westerveld said.
The church prayed for both the judge and Swartz, he said.
"Her role in Tsegai's death fills us with a blended sense of sadness, pity and anger. Like Tsegai's family and the rest of us, but in her own way, she faces a lifetime of reliving and remembering the morning of December 16, 2018," Westerveld said of Swartz.
As a person who had lived through real hardship, suffering and poverty before coming to the United States, Gebremichael was always perplexed to hear people complain about everyday life in America, Westerveld said.
Lemuel Woldegebriel, Gebremichael's oldest son, said his father was a family man who spent his life working and providing for the family and was a model for his children who are no longer able to go to their father for his wisdom.
Ann Dean, Swartz's mother, turned to face the Gebremichael family and friends in court as she said she's very sorry.
Swartz has always been kind and respectful, her mother said. "She's never intentionally harmed anyone," she said.
Swartz wants to help others not make the same mistakes she made, Dean said, asking that Swartz be given a sentence that would not take away her hope of having a positive impact.
Swartz, who has been in Bucks County Correctional Facility since her Dec. 18, 2018 preliminary arraignment, said she's attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there and joined a drug and alcohol class and is learning coping skills.
She said her brother died when she was 11 and her father when she was 17.
She fell into the wrong crowd and started drinking and taking drugs, she said. She took the synthetic marijuana in an effort to get off opioids, she said. Her arrest for the fatal crash was the first time she was in prison, she said.
Having lost a father herself, it's painful to see Gebremichael's death, she said.
"This is somebody I am confident will not be before you ever again, or any other judge," defense attorney Brian McBeth, of the Bucks County Public Defender's Office, told Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finley.
Finley said he was impressed in reading the impact letters on behalf of Gebremichael and the letters on behalf of Swartz that both families are ones of religious faith.
He said he has no doubt that Swartz is honestly remorseful.
The tragedies that happened in her life are not an excuse or explanation for her actions, though, he said.
"There's a consequence for your action and it is a significant one," Finley said before setting the three to 10 year sentence on the homicide by vehicle while DUI charge. He also sentenced Swartz to three to six months in prison for the DUI charge, with that sentence running concurrently to the longer sentence. The sentence also included having a drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment.
Swartz was given credit for the time already spent in prison.