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May 6, 2014

Fireman’s family mourns his loss in court

NEW CASTLE — Laura E. Gargiulo’s quiet and brief apology was barely audible in the courtroom Monday.

But Daniel E. Gallatin’s mourning family was loud and clear as they told the court they are not able to forgive her for taking his life over a text message.

Gargiulo, 44, of Butler, was admittedly texting and driving when her car ran Gallatin down on his motorcycle in front of his daughter’s house in Hickory Township around 1:30 p.m. May 7, 2013.

Gallatin, 68, a life-long member of the Scott Township Volunteer Fire Department and its chief for many years, was remembered as a churchgoer, Mason, Navy veteran and charitable biker.

Gargiulo entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to jail. She also was ordered to lecture high schoolers on the consequences of texting and driving. And she will pay fines — one of $50, the maximum for texting while driving.

A crowd of about 100 — including motorcyclists, uniformed firefighters, members of the New Castle Area Honor Guard, Masons, friends and relatives — sat solemnly in the courtroom in support of Gallatin’s family.

His daughter, Michelle Baughman, reprimanded Gargiulo, saying, “It’s been 363 days since you killed my father ... you made a choice to break the law and text while driving and you caused my dad’s death.

“I just can’t forgive you. You killed my dad, five months to the day before my wedding.” And what’s worse, she continued, “I see the place where you killed him every time I leave my house.”

Gallatin’s wife of 43 years, Mary Lou, pointed out her husband and Shenango Township police officer William J. “Jerry” McCarthy died five days apart last year.

“Dan and Jerry were killed by two adult women who had no respect for authority,” she said, adding “God’s forgiveness will come sooner than mine.”

The Gallatins’ son, Brian, recalled meeting a man in a restaurant who looks upon his father as a hero, because he had given cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the man when he suffered a heart attack.

“This was the man that you killed, a productive member of society who gave more than he got,” he told Gargiulo.

Longtime close family friend Jim Conner remembered having celebrated New Year’s Eve with the Gallatins for 30 years.

“I pray someday that she will realize the emotional and physical effects she has caused his family and friends,” he said.

“This is a case that has troubled the court since (it) first received the file,” commented Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Cox.

He said he frequently sees people driving while talking on phones or texting, adding changes need to be made in the severity of the laws governing cell phone use while driving.

Gargiulo, represented by Pittsburgh attorney John Zagari, pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter, one count of reckless driving and one county of illegally texting while driving. Cox imposed the following sentence:

•For the involuntary manslaughter charge, nine to 23 1/2 months in jail. The first four will be in the Lawrence County jail. Then, she may petition the court for house arrest for five months. That is to be followed by three years probation.

She also was: ordered her to have no contact with the Gallatin family, prohibited from texting, had her driver’s license suspended, required to make restitution to Mary Lou Gallatin of $6,522.65, and ordered to perform community service by participating in mock accident presentations at New Castle High School and addressing teens on the consequences of texting while driving.

•For the reckless driving charge, a $200 fine.

•For the texting while driving charge, a $50 fine.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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