Courtney L. Saylor
New Castle News
Ben L. Loutzenhiser will spend at least 2 1/2 years in prison for killing his best friend last year in a drunk driving crash a few miles from the site of a 2002 wreck he was involved in that left another friend dead.
Mercer County Judge Thomas R. Dobson sentenced Loutzenhiser, 27, of 9 Eich Road, Perry Township, Mercer County, to a total of 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 years in state prison on four charges related to the wreck in Salem Township that took the life of James E. Sires Jr., 25, of Hadley.
He pleaded guilty in August to homicide by vehicle, drunken driving, and accidents involving death and reckless driving.
Court records show his blood alcohol content was 0.195 percent after the crash, which occurred about 1:30 a.m. May 11, 2011.
The truck Loutzenhiser had been driving hit a tree on Mitchell Hill Road and Sires was partly thrown from the vehicle. He died from his injuries about an hour later.
It wasn’t the first time Loutzenhiser was behind the wheel when a passenger died. On June 17, 2002, the car he was driving crashed into a tree on Smith Road in Perry Township. Melissa A. Yeager, 16, of Hadley, died at the scene, which is less than three miles from site of the wreck that killed Sires.
Four members of Sires’ family were in court Friday. They didn’t speak, but Loutzenhiser addressed them before he was sentenced.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to tell you guys, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry,” Loutzenhiser said.
He said he didn’t expect forgiveness and knew there was nothing he could do to bring Sires back.
“He was a great kid. You couldn’t ask for a better best friend,” Loutzenhiser said of Sires, whom he called caring and kind-hearted.
Dobson said the damage Loutzenhiser caused will last a lifetime.
“You can see the hole you left in his family that will never close,” the judge said.
“I just pray that God keeps your family strong and that somehow, some way, you guys find some sort of peace of mind,” Loutzenhiser said.
According to Herald files, the two men had gone to an Otter Creek Township bar together earlier in the evening.
Loutzenhiser told police he didn’t remember the accident but called for help when he couldn’t wake Sires up and saw blood inside the cab.
The judge noted a drug and alcohol evaluation found Loutzenhiser did not need addiction treatment. He also was ordered to pay $1,200 in fines.
Sires’ mother Andrea has filed a wrongful death suit against the Draw Bar and Grille, 626 Hadley Road, over the incident. She claims the bar’s employees should not have thrown Loutzenhiser or Sires out of the bar the night of the crash but should have warned Sires of Loutzenhiser’s behavior or had proper security.
The bar says the suit is without merit and has asked for it to be dismissed.
It’s unclear if Loutzenhiser was charged in the wreck that killed Yeager in 2002. He was a minor at the time and no public court record exists that shows he was charged, nor do Herald files include any information.