Teens remain hospitalized after crash

This was the scene after two vehicles collided head-on late Friday on Harlansburg Road.

Under the protective wing of their mother and a private attorney and still recovering from severe injuries, Isis and Irie Whisel listened in a courtroom as the driver of a car that smashed into them admitted her guilt.

Leah Kathleen Piccione, 29, of East Clen-Moore Boulevard entered a guilty plea Monday before retired Judge William R. Cunningham of Erie in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas. Cunningham presided over the case because Piccione has family affiliated with the Lawrence County courts.

She is in the Lawrence County jail, awaiting sentencing for a driving-under-the-influence offense that nearly cost the two Laurel High sisters, and herself, their lives on Aug. 30, 2019.

Her voluntary guilty plea is to two counts of aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, two counts of drunk driving and two counts of recklessly endangering other persons. Other charges pending against her will be dismissed as a result of the plea agreement. He sentencing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept 29.

Piccione's defense attorney, Robert G. DelGreco Jr. of Pittsburgh, said Piccione could be ordered to serve up to 26 years in a state correctional institution and pay a fine of $66,800. 

The case is being prosecuted by Evan Anthony Lowry II of the state office of the Attorney General, who said the accident victims are not contesting the plea.

After the proceeding, Del Greco commented on Piccione's behalf, "My client deeply regrets the accident, and is so sorry about the injuries they sustained. She has said that if she could do it all over gain, she would have preferred to have suffered those injuries herself. She is accepting full responsibility for her actions."

Dallas M. Hartman, private counsel for the Whisel family, said the family would not make any statements at this time.

The two-vehicle collision occurred around 10:15 p.m. in the 3500 block of Harlansburg Road. Earlier reports said the two teens were in a black Nissan Sentra, returning home from an out-of-town Laurel football game, when Piccione's black Honda Civic crossed the center line of the road and struck their vehicle head on.

A witness who was driving on Route 108 spotted the crash scene and ran over to the Maxima and helped the driver, Isis Whisel, then 18, out of the car. He told police she was unresponsive but breathing. He then ran over to the Civic and saw that Piccione was conscious, he reported.

The two Whisel teens were flown from the Scott Township fire hall to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Isis Whisel suffered a broken ankle and had screws put in her shin as a result of her injuries. She also had cuts on her forehead and eyes, a lacerated spleen, two chipped vertebrae, damaged blood vessels and clotting in her brain after the accident. Irie, a passenger, suffered extensive broken bones and internal injuries, according to previous reports.

Piccione also had been hospitalized in Youngstown with injuries she suffered in the collision. 

According to the complaint, a state trooper  at the accident scene had tried to ask Piccione what had happened while she was lying in an ambulance and she smelled of alcohol. 

The charges against her were filed after state police obtained a search warrant from the Mahoning County courts for medical records, laboratory reports and chemical testing of Piccione which showed her blood alcohol level was 0.178 percent, according to the criminal complaint. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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