ELYRIA — Mark Ralich was sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday after telling the family of 18-year-old Andrew “A.J.” Vincent that he was “truly sorry” for the crash that killed Vincent and injured two of his friends.
“I wish I could go back honestly and switch places with him,” said Ralich, 23. “I wasn’t in the right state of mind.”
Friends and family of Vincent pleaded for the maximum sentence of 18 years in prison, saying their lives were devastated by the 1:30 a.m. crash Nov. 27, 2010. Assistant County Prosecutor Anthony Cillo said Ralich was driving nearly three times the 35-mph speed limit and was trying to avoid police.
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After drinking three double shots of Jack Daniels and Coke, Ralich “chose to drive at a speed that was ungodly” with the speedometer reaching 93 mph moments before the crash, Cillo said.
“He had effectively turned that car into a guided missile,” Cillo said.
Ralich had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.23, almost three times the legal driving limit of 0.08, at the time of the crash, Cillo said. Ralich also had marijuana and cocaine in his system, but the tests didn’t indicate how long before the crash Ralich had taken the drugs.
Defense attorney Michael Camera asked for less than the maximum sentence, noting that Ralich had no felony record. He also said his client was the son and grandson of alcoholics.
Vincent’s mother, Jean, told Ralich that his family life was no excuse, saying, “I come from an alcoholic family, too.”
She accused Ralich of staring at her and laughing at her at one court appearance — an accusation he denied, saying, “My intension was never to laugh or stare at her.”
Jean Vincent said, “I will never forgive. …This is going to be the death of me, losing my only son, and shame on your mom for giving you the car that night.”
Ralich’s mother, Mary Lou Ralich, also addressed the crowded courtroom, saying, “Frankly, I don’t know what to say that wouldn’t be more hurtful. The only thing I don’t agree with is he doesn’t show remorse.
“Mark is a wonderful person — I know that doesn’t mean much to the other family — but he is,” she said.
Also making a statement was Vincent’s sister, Tonya, a nurse who ran to the wreckage on the night of the crash.
She screamed for her brother to wake up. Instead, another one of the teens, Patrick DeSouza, awoke with blood streaming from his nose, eyes and ears, she said.
She said she couldn’t even recognize another one of her brother’s friends, Mitchell Johnson, who grabbed her hand and squeezed it. But Tonya Vincent said she never touched her brother, whose face turned away from her.
“I will forever in my heart regret not touching him, not trying harder,” she said.
One by one, Vincent’s friends described their broken bones and broken hearts following the crash.
Johnson, who had numerous fractures and needed facial reconstruction, recalled cradling Vincent as firefighters cut open the car.
“I now live knowing my best friend died in my lap,” Johnson said.
Patrick DeSouza said his injuries included pelvic fractures and a punctured lung, and he was unable to walk until March 2011.
“They say, ‘Move on,’ ”
DeSouza said. “(But) I will never forgive Mark Ralich.”
Perhaps one of the saddest accounts was from Cody Toboz, who ran for help after the crash.
Toboz described ringing in his ears after the Chevy Malibu driven by Ralich slammed into Vincent’s Ford Focus at Brandston Avenue and Poplar Street.
“I tried to scream, but nothing would come out,” Toboz said. “I asked, ‘Is everyone OK?’ and nobody answered.”
After the crash, Toboz returned to college, but said, “I completely blew my opportunity to graduate from Kent State University, stopped going to class, didn’t even take my final exams, started getting into trouble and eventually could not finish.
“All I cared about was trying to numb the pain, which was literally impossible.”
Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers told the courtroom that the case had been one of his most difficult to decide.
Besides having no felony record, the judge said Ralich immediately accepted responsibility, asking police about the driver of the Focus, agreeing to a blood test and telling police, “I f——d up.”
Vincent also had marijuana in his system, the judge said.
Ewers said no sentence can bring Vincent back, and he encouraged those involved to seek counseling.
“I can tell you hate doesn’t destroy the person you aim it at, it destroys yourself,” said Ewers, who said he also lost a nephew to a drunken driver. “It’s hard to believe A.J. would want everyone’s lives to stop because this happened.”
After court, Camera said his client would be eligible to request early release after serving four years.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.