HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona teenager who was the driver in a fatal traffic accident in Sinking Valley just over a year ago tearfully told a judge and those in court Friday that she "will always be sorry" for what happened, and then she said the experience of losing a friend has forever altered her.
Facing several remaining victims of the July 18, 2013, accident, Susan M. Schezzini, 19, said, "I feel I have learned."
She called the young man who died in the crash - Jordan Dean Dodson, 18, of Altoona - "my very best friend."
"I've never lost anyone before," said the soft-spoken young woman who was 18 and a recent high school graduate ready to begin college, when her car went airborne on Sinking Valley Road and then slid out-of-control into an oncoming vehicle driven by Kaylee D. Harper, 26, of Tyrone.
Harper was riding with two of her children, a 2-year-old and a 2-week-old infant.
The children were not hurt, and Harper's husband, Matt, prior to reading a statement from his wife, thanked God for saving his family.
Sarah E. Sweeney, 22, was a passenger in Schezzini's Nissan Altima. Sweeney suffered serious injuries and has yet to recover. Her medical bills, according to Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, have topped $168,000.
Sweeney said Friday, "I just want to know why, why she did this?"
Blair County Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter accepted a plea agreement presented by Consiglio, under which Schezzini will serve three months' home detention followed by 39 months' parole on the charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault by vehicle, careless driving and speeding.
After listening to the comments, he commented on Sweeney's question - why?
"There probably isn't any answer to the question," he said.
"Why do things happen the way they do? I hardly know what to say to the situation," mused Carpenter.
"'Why' questions are the hardest questions of all. You have to get in someone else's mind," he said.
Court documents state that Schezzini and three friends, Dodson, Sweeney and Emily Ann Kissell, 18, were traveling south on Kettle Road, which leads from Altoona to Fort Roberdeau, and their vehicle went out of control and into the Harper car, which was traveling north.
The Schezzini car "crested a hill at a high rate of speed," stated the police affidavit.
After the vehicles collided, the car rolled over multiple times and went into a soybean field.
The Harper vehicle was also on its roof after the accident.
Matt Harper related his wife's feelings. She saw the Schezzini car go out of control. The accident happened very quickly, and she was thinking, "Oh my God. We've just been hit."
He said it was important to speak during the sentencing hearing because, "We want a lesson to be learned."
Everybody makes bad decisions, Harper said, adding he wanted the accident to be "a lesson learned ... a life changed."
"We can forgive. ... But if it happened for nothing, if nothing is learned, I don't think that is good at all," Harper concluded.
He told Schezzini, "Think about this and learn from this. We don't want anything other than this."
Schezzini's attorney, Gerald M. Nelson, said that she is "honestly remorseful" and called the accident "a life-changing event."
Carpenter said he will schedule a hearing to determine how much reimbursement Schezzini must pay.
As the courtroom cleared, Schezzini stayed behind and sobbed in the arms of her parents.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7368.