Man sentenced to 2 1/3 to 7 years in fatal DWI crash

George Kiaha of Garrison wept today as a Westchester County judge sentenced him to serve 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison for causing a 2009 drunken driving crash that killed a retired auto worker from Peekskill and injured his family in Cortlandt.

The sentence was the maximum allowed by law for vehicular manslaughter, the top count on which he was convicted last year in the death of 55-year-old Ralph Wood.

A red-eyed Kiaha, who still uses a cane from the injuries he sustained in the Sept. 4, 2009 collision, apologized to Wood’s family, who wore memorial T-shirts to court and filled one side of Judge Barbara Zambelli’s courtroom.

Wood’s two daughters, his sister and his 10-year-old granddaughter gave tearful victim’s impact statements. They shared memories of camping trips and family outings, nicknames and small but cherished conversations.

“I don’t think you realize what you took from me,” said Gloria Wood, the victim’s oldest daughter. “I’m not sorry you have to pay for what happened.”

Prosecutors said Kiaha (pictured, above) was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent when he crossed the double yellow line and slammed into the car with Wood and his family near Sarah Road. The family was headed to dinner in Dutchess County when Kiaha hit them.

Everyone involved was hospitalized. Kiaha was unconscious and had to be extricated from his car. Wood had a ruptured spleen that was undetected at first. He later went into cardiac arrest and died.

Kiaha, 25, was convicted of the entire 12-count indictment against him, which included criminally negligent homicide, drunken and reckless driving and five counts of assault, one each for Wood’s three grandchildren, his daughter and her fiance, all passengers in the GMC. Those counts are misdemeanors.

The jury rejected the defense’s argument that sloppy police work in question and mishandled evidence that cast doubt on the blood-alcohol report created reasonable doubt.

Read more about this story tomorrow in The Journal News and on LoHud.com.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.