By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN
WEST CHESTER -- A Lincoln University student who was at the wheel of a borrowed car when it crashed into a tree and killed one of his classmates and severely injured another was sentenced to state prison for five to 10 years last Thursday.
Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Sarcione, who noted the excessively reckless nature of the crash, went beyond the mandatory three-to-six year minimum prison term for Phillip Tomsic on the charge of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, ordering him held in prison for four-to-eight years instead. In addition, Sarcione added another one to two years behind bars for Tomsic on the charge of aggravated assault while DUI.
Tomsic, who had apologized to the families of his victims in a written statement to the court, showed no outward reaction to the sentence. He has been held in prison since his conviction in August, and was led from the courtroom in handcuffs to await transfer to the state system.
Sarcione said he hoped that the severity of his sentence would put young people in the community on notice of the penalties one could pay for getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking alcohol. Testimony at Tomsic’s non-jury trial showed he had consumed multiple glasses of vodka and juice before offering to drive his friends to Oxford to get take-out food.
“It never ceases to amaze me how people continue to drink and drive, and have these tragic cases come into court,” said Sarcione in imposing the sentence. “I think everybody loses who has anything to do with drinking and driving. I don’t know if it will ever stop. We can only hope.”
Tomsic, 23, of Bangor, Mich., was at the wheel of a borrowed car on Nov. 4, 2011, when it slammed into a tree on Ashum Road just off the Lincoln University campus in Lower Oxford. He and two friends, Anthony Vernon Washington and Kadeem Fulmore, were on their way back to the campus when the crash occurred. Police said that car was traveling at more than 85 miles per hours when it left the road and hit the tree.
The car burst into flames. Washington, 21, was killed instantly by blunt force trauma. Fulmore, now 23, suffered massive injuries and severe burns after being trapped in the car for some period of time before emergency crews pulled him out. He remains hospitalized after having lost his left leg, his right foot, and the use of his left arm. He did not attend the sentencing.
Tomsic was able to pull himself from the wreckage with only moderate injuries.
Washington’s mother, grandmother, and uncle all spoke of the impact the crash had had on their lives prior to hearing Sarcione’s sentence.
“We all knew that Anthony was going to do big things,” his mother, Wanda Washington, said of the Lincoln student, who grew up in New York. “The defendant took that away.” She noted that since the crash Tomsic had returned to Lincoln, continued his studies, walked with his class at graduation, and fathered a child – “all of those things Anthony was never given a chance to do.”
Michael Washington, the deceased’s uncle, asked Sarcione to take into account the fact that the dangers of drinking and driving are well known in today’s day and age, and that young people like Tomsic have multiple options that would keep them safe.
“When the consequences are big, people respect that,” he said.
In offering his “deepest condolences” to Washington’s family, Tomsic called the deceased “a good friend of mine, and I miss him dearly. There is no way to bring him back.” He also said he prayed for Fulmore’s recovery.
Attending the sentencing were Tomsic’s mother, Diane Tomsic, his brother, his fiancée, and others. None spoke on his behalf, although they had submitted letters of support for Sarcione’s consideration.
District Attorney’s Chief of Staff Charles Gaza, who prosecuted the case, urged Sarcione to go beyond the standard sentence for Tomsic and sentence him to a term of eight to 16 years. He cited the brutality of the injuries that Washington had suffered from the impact of the crash, and the continuing physical obstacles that Fulmore faces in rehabilitation. The family has already incurred more than $1 million in medical bills.
The minimum mandatory “is not enough,” Gaza said. “This case is serious.”
Tomsic’s attorney, William Davis Jr. of Media, on the other hand, asked Sarcione to limit the total time that his client, who had no prior criminal record, spends in prison to three to six years.
“There was no intent on the part of my client to what happened here. It is a moment that is unexplained,” Davis said.
In delivering a guilty verdict in the non-jury trial, Sarcione accepted the prosecution’s case that Tomsic’s Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC, was between .08 percent and .10 percent within two hours after the crash. He accepted the testimony of the prosecution’s expert that the BAC was a .89 at 12:15 a.m. Nov. 5, and that looking back it could be determined that at the time of the crash his BAC was .12, over the legal limit for DUI.