Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva told an Altoona man on Friday that no matter what other expenses he has, his first priority must be paying off a woman whose van he destroyed while he was driving under the influence last December.
The 1995 van that was totaled belonged to Brenda Kniss, and it was equipped to transport Kniss' special needs daughter, who is 13 years old.
Since that accident occurred two days before Christmas, life has become very difficult for Kniss and her daughter, Karrisa.
Kniss has to transport her daughter to doctors' appointments by taxi or bus. It has become expensive, and she and her daughter have not been able to keep many of the appointments.
"It has put me in a terrible hardship," said the 43-year-old who herself is disabled because of a back injury.
She once was a cashier but had to give up that job because she can't stand for long periods of time.
Kniss now lives on Lloyd Street, but in December she lived on the 200 block of Fourth Street.
During the early morning of Dec. 23, Michael A. Grimes, 21, was traveling south in his SUV when it went out of control and slammed into Kniss' parked vehicle.
The force of the impact pushed the van into a utility pole.
Police gave Grimes four field sobriety tests. He failed three of them. His blood-alcohol content turned out to be 0.184 percent, according to court documents.
Grimes appeared before Kopriva on Friday morning to be sentenced as a first-time drunken driving offender, an offense that calls for 72 hours in jail.
The judge wasted little time in confronting Grimes, noting the vehicle he destroyed was used by a special-needs child.
"How does that make you feel Mr. Grimes?" she said.
Grimes said he felt bad about what occurred.
A first-time drunken driving offender is fined $1,000 and ordered to pay court costs, which usually add up to more than $400. Grimes' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jason Imler, told the judge that Grimes was already paying $500 a month on a bad check charge and was part of the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.
The judge faced another problem: The computer used to distribute costs and fines takes out what is owed to the county first and distributes what is left in restitution to crime victims.
Based on this procedure, Kniss would have to wait a long time to get the $3,200 owed to her, meaning she will have to endure the added hardship of no vehicle for a longer period of time. To overcome all these obstacles, Kopriva urged Grimes to pay restitution to Kniss through the District Attorney's Victim-Witness Program, and she said he really should borrow the $3,200 from someone, putting the hardship on himself and taking it off of the victim and her daughter.
"That should make you feel better," she said to Grimes.
She then suspended any payment of Grimes' costs and fines for six months, hopefully freeing up more money to help him reimburse Kniss.
Finally, Kopriva took the unusual step of ordering a review of the Grimes case in six months to see how he is doing in making payments to the victim.
"If that [payment of restitution] is not happening, we will have a hearing to find out why not," Kopriva said.
"You've hurt a lot of people here. ... It's crunch time," Kopriva told Grimes.
When the defense attorney attempted to explain all of the financial burdens Grimes faces, Kopriva said, "I'm not here to solve your problem. You'll have to work it out yourself."
When contacted Friday, Brenda Kniss said she was pleased that Kopriva took a tough stance.
She said her daughter suffers from a learning disability and other problems, and she said the lack of transportation "has just been very hard."
Sally Granica of Tucson, Ariz., Kniss' mother, also wanted to talk about the case, noting that Kniss is having a very hard time.
Granica said, "I feel so badly for her. She is already going through hell."
She said of the judge's attempt to obtain restitution, "For once in [Kniss'] life, something good is happening."
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Julia Wilt said, "We need to make sure he is paying. We need to make this victim whole."
According to Wilt, a member of the Victim-Witness staff, Lindsay Malloy will handle the restitution to be paid by Grimes.