By Ed Runyan
Paul Wodianka, 43, of Diamond had accepted that he would get 10 years in prison for driving intoxicated Sept. 21 and crashing head-on into a car driven by Jamie Danes, 37, killing Danes and his wife, Emily, 29.
Wodianka already had pleaded guilty before Judge W. Wyatt McKay in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court and offered a brief apology for the Newton Township crash. The Daneses were from Paris Township just west of Newton Falls.
But from appearances, the tougher part was later, listening to remarks from two members of Jamie’s family and two members of Emily’s family, as well as a statement read by victim-witness advocate Miriam Fife that was written by the Daneses’ 8-year-old son, Brendan.
“I am now Brendan’s guardian, along with my wife, Dreamma,” said John Danes Jr., Jamie’s brother.
“Three weeks after the incident, I lost my father to a stroke, no doubt caused by the anguish and stress from the incident you created,” he said, speaking directly to Wodianka.
“We will do everything we can to make sure we are there for Brendan in everything that he does,” he said.
“However, given the choice, I can assure you we would not be his first pick for any of these things. One-hundred times out of 100 he would chose his mother and father if he could.”
John Danes Jr. said the sight of his parents at their home in nearby Palmyra Township after Lt. Brian Holt of the Ohio State Highway Patrol told them what happened will never leave him.
“My dad had a look on his face I can’t even describe. That memory and the helplessness I felt seeing my parents in so much pain will be ingrained in me for the rest of my life.”
Brendan’s statement said: “The last thing [my parents] said to me was, ‘Make sure you know how much we love you.’ But I knew that, and I loved them so much, too.”
The couple was returning home from a movie and anniversary dinner in Niles at the time of the accident. Wodianka, whose home is near Lake Milton, had been at a Newton Falls restaurant just before the accident.
Carol Danes, Jamie’s mother, said of Brendan: “He went to bed with everything in its place and woke up the next morning with everything gone.”
The crash prompted Andrea Paventi, director of a Mahoning County agency that tracks and tests Mahoning County OVI offenders, to contend that Wodianka is an example of lax handling of OVI cases in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Wodianka was charged with OVI four times in Mahoning County dating back to 1996 but was convicted only once.
Cathy Kivimaki of Jefferson, Emily’s mother, said of Wodianka’s history: “Obviously you have not been punished enough to make you want to change your ways.
“You’ve had many opportunities to turn your life around. I hope this punishment is severe and painful enough to make you want to change.”
Later she added, “I hope during your time in prison, you become just like me. I hope that as you awake each morning, your first thought of the day is my daughter — just like me.”
Wodianka pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, one count of OVI and four counts of drug possession.
Mike Burnett, assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said Wodianka had a blood-alcohol level of 0.052, which is below the legal limit of 0.08, but he also had four drugs in his system for which he had no prescription.
The alcohol and drugs were the reason Wodianka failed to negotiate a curve, crossed the center line on South Canal Street and struck the Daneses’ vehicle, Burnett said.
“I would just like to say how sorry I am to the family,” Wodianka said.