Pair sentenced in girl’s ATV death
Bilak receives at least 8.5 years on homicide charge
HOLLIDAYSBURG — The distraught parents of Hollidaysburg Area High School senior and softball star Mikayla Dawn “Mick” Focht, who was killed in an ATV accident last year, told the driver of that vehicle
on Tuesday, “The greatest pain a human being can experience is the loss of a child.”
Larry J. Focht and his wife, Dawn, were addressing Trenton Ross Bilak, 24, of Everett, who was being sentenced on charges of homicide by vehicle, accidents involving death or personal injury and reckless driving. They asked Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to impose a long prison sentence.
Sullivan responded by sentencing Bilak to consecutive terms in the state prison system totaling 8.5 to 17 years.
The prison sentence is to be followed by two years’ probation.
The word “tragic” was used repeatedly to describe what occurred during the early morning of April 14, 2017.
That morning, Bilak was speeding away from a teenage drinking party in a wooded area of Greenfield Township.
His ATV was being followed by another man in a Jeep, Jacob Ralph Helsel, just two months past his 18th birthday.
Bilak was traveling along Knob Road in the Blue Knob area when four deer ran in front of the ATV. The vehicle struck two of the deer, catapulting Mikayla Focht more than 200 feet.
When the young woman landed, she appeared unresponsive. It is what occurred in the ensuing two hours that so repulsed not only the judge and the young woman’s parents but also more than 70 onlookers who packed Sullivan’s courtroom.
As the teenager laid on the road, police believe that Helsel’s pursuing Jeep, upon seeing Bilak standing over the victim in the roadway, ran over the body and in the process swerved out of control into a utility pole.
A woman in a nearby house was awakened by the commotion and heard the men talking, asking each other if he were “OK.”
The woman in the house looked out to see what was going on, but it was dark, and she went back to bed.
Help wasn’t called
The two men, however, didn’t bother to check Focht’s condition, and they didn’t go to the nearby home to summon help, District Attorney Richard Consigilio told the court.
Instead they left the scene, traveling to a friend’s house possibly a mile or two away.
Bilak changed his clothes, then parked his ATV at the home where it could not be seen.
Consiglio said Bilak and Helsel then drove to a garage, supposedly for repairs, but the Blair DA indicated the real purpose was to hide Helsel’s damaged vehicle.
They got into Bilak’s truck and returned to the scene in order to pick up parts of Helsel’s vehicle that remained at the scene of the accident.
Two hours after the accident, the body was still lying on the road, but by that point a motorist had stopped to investigate. Nancy Dively was on her way to work.
Dively realized the teen was deceased after bending down and asking, “Ma’am, can you hear me?”
She parked her vehicle in a manner to protect the body from traffic.
Dively said she saw Bilak and Helsel standing nearby, but they said nothing.
Instead they threw the parts of Helsel’s vehicle in the back of the truck that Bilak was driving.
By this point Dively had called for help and a member of the fire department that responded asked if anybody knew anything about the accident. Helsel, a member of the fire company, and Bilak still did not respond, Consigilio said.
After another question, Helsel said he knew something but reported only that he had discovered the body a few minutes before and was in the process of trying to summon help.
‘Hard to imagine’
State Police Trooper Matthew McCalpin, the lead investigator and the officer who filed charges against the two, told Judge Sullivan the circumstances that occurred that morning were “hard to imagine.”
Helsel, of Duncansville, also was charged with accidents involving death or personal injury and tampering with evidence. In a separate hearing Tuesday, Sullivan sentenced him to serve four to eight years in a state correctional institution.
The judge held Bilak’s hearing in the morning, and Mikayla’s parents had the chance to speak publicly for the first time about the accident that took their only child.
Dawn Focht told Bilak that he inflicted a wound “in our hearts that will never heal.”
She called Miklayla “our beautiful daughter” and stated her death “turned our world upside down.”
Mikayla, she said, was a “most humble and caring person who thanked God for everything she had in life.”
Bilak’s defense counsel, Brian Manchester, and Bilak himself said he was at a teenage bonfire and drinking party that night in a meadow off Knob Road and that the teens were going to spend the night in a nearby cabin.
Mikayla was among the group, who with Helsel and others went to the cabin for the night.
Bilak alleged he was informed that Helsel was inappropriately touching Focht and another girl in the cabin and went there to break up the group.
His intention was to take Focht to his friend’s nearby house, which is why she was on the ATV with him.
As he left the cabin with his passenger, Helsel followed in his vehicle.
‘Did everything wrong’
“This was not a case of going on a joy ride,” Manchester argued. Bilak was trying to take Focht to safety when the accident occurred.
What started out to be Bilak’s attempt to “do the right thing” ended up in a tragedy.
“He did everything wrong,” the defense attorney stated.
“Everything I heard about Mikalya is that she was a good person. … The family will hurt for a long time. I’m sure they will hate my client for a long time,” he said.
He asked the judge to impose a sentence of only 3.5 years.
Bilak apologized, stating after the hitting the deer, “I lost my head. … I wasn’t thinking straight.”
His actions that morning will be with him the rest of his life.
“A lot of people hate me. I pray some day I’ll be forgiven,” Bilak said.
Sullivan said Bilak’s story that he was taking heroic actions that morning to remove Focht from a dangerous situation “have no credibility.”
Manchester said after the hearing said he believed the judge sentenced Bilak to the maximum sentence he could because of the emotion expressed by the family and others during the two-hour hearing.
He said he likely will appeal the sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
“My client accepted responsibility,” a factor, he said that should have resulted in a lesser sentence.