Judge denies claims in ATV crash
Bilak challenged legal proceedings in fatal accident case
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County judge has turned down arguments challenging the legal proceedings leading to a lengthy prison sentence in connection with a 2017 fatal ATV crash.
Judge Timothy M. Sullivan recently reviewed arguments offered on behalf of Trenton Ross Bilak, 26, of Everett, who was driving an ATV in Greenfield Township when it struck a pair of deer. The impact ejected Bilak’s passenger, 18-year-old Mikayla D. Focht of Hollidaysburg, who died at the crash site.
In June 2018, Bilak rendered guilty pleas to accidents involving death or personal injury, homicide by vehicle, tampering with physical evidence and recklessly endangering another person.
Three months later, Sullivan imposed consecutive sentences for each, totaling 8.5- to 17-years’ incarceration, which Bilak is currently serving at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.
After sentencing, defense attorney Brian Manchester appealed to the state Superior Court on Bilak’s behalf and challenged the incarceration time imposed. The state court, however, found no fault with Sullivan’s decision.
Through an additional appeal initiated last year under the Post Conviction Relief Act, attorney Daniel A. Pallen raised additional challenges for Bilak.
Pallen contends that Bilak was wrongly advised to render guilty pleas in a case where a forensic expert’s report offered leeway in addressing the cause of Focht’s death.
The young woman’s body was run over by a Jeep after she was ejected from the ATV.
In his recent opinion, Sullivan dismissed Pallen’s claim by pointing to courtroom testimony where Bilak admitted to knowing about the expert’s report and that he “was not unequivocally the cause of the victim’s death.”
The judge also referenced Bilak’s plea to homicide by vehicle and his understanding of the elements making up the crime.
Pallen also contends through the Post Conviction Relief Act appeal that Bilak was wrongly advised to plead guilty to four specific offenses. He should have been advised, Pallen said, to render an open plea to all offenses in exchange for a five- to 10-year sentence, as offered by then-District Attorney Richard Consiglio.
Sullivan indicated in his opinion that Bilak was aware of his options and chose to render pleas to four specific charges. In court, Bilak acknowledged and Consiglio stated that the pleas to the four charges could lead to a sentence that was greater than or less than the proposed five to 10 years.
“(Bilak’s) displeasure with the sentence that he was given, because he was hoping for a different result, does not provide (Bilak) with a basis for the withdrawal of his guilty plea,” Sullivan wrote. “It also certainly does not demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel meeting the legal standard necessary to grant this petition.”
Pallen also proposed that Bilak was entitled, either before he was sentenced or afterward, to pursue the withdrawal of his guilty pleas.
Sullivan said that Manchester had no reason to encourage Bilak to withdraw his pleas before the sentencing. Afterward, he had no legally valid reasons to petition for withdrawal, Sullivan said.
Pallen has the option, within 30 days, of asking the state Superior Court to review Sullivan’s conclusions.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.