TRENTON – A state appeals court has ordered a Monmouth County woman retried on a vehicular homicide charge in the February 2020 death of an Old Bridge man in a pedestrian accident.
Amy Amkhanitsky, 20, of Marlboro, was sentenced to four years in prison by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca for the death of 69-year-old Richard Lockwood III, who was struck while crossing Route 34 in the Triangle area. Drive on February 5, 2020.
But the appeals court ruled Tuesday that Bucca, in his sentencing on Aug. 4, 2022, and later, failed to properly consider aggravating and mitigating factors in sentencing Amkhanitsy, who was 17 at the time of the accident but waived the her right to be tried as a juvenile.
Amkhanitsky was released on parole on June 15. The re-sentencing, which will be conducted by a different judge within 30 days, will affect any future sentence if she violates the terms of her release.
After a blood test revealed the presence of marijuana, Amkhanitsky was charged with first degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault.
In a plea deal with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, Amkhanitsky, who told police she took two hits of marijuana from a vapor pen about four hours before the crash, pleaded guilty to third-degree vehicular homicide in exchange for a recommendation that he would be sentenced to five years in prison with the opportunity to argue for a lesser sentence.
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Amkhanitsky, who was a high school senior at the time of the crash, was driving on a dark stretch of Route 34 approaching a hill when she didn’t see Lockwood cross the road at about 7:30 p.m. He immediately called 911 and stayed at the scene. Court documents state that police did not observe her to be under the influence of any substance and did not perform any field sobriety tests, although an officer smelled marijuana while standing next to her vehicle.
A test revealed her blood contained 3.7 nanograms of THC, the main ingredient that produces marijuana’s high, which Robert Pandina, the retired director of the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers, said caused her intoxication.
At her sentencing. Amkhanitsky admitted she was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash and understood the consequences of her actions. He also said that “being sorry is not going to bring anyone back or reverse time” and that he was receiving medical treatment “to prevent this from happening to anyone again.”
She said she wrote a letter of apology to Lockwood’s family and said she prayed for them every day.
Although Bucca agreed there were more mitigating factors than aggravating factors, Bucca said they did not “offset” the seriousness of the crime and did not warrant a probation downgrade.
The judge noted that he had an obligation “to send a strong and consistent message to the wider community, in a general deterrence effort, that driving under the influence of any drug is a very serious matter”.
Amkhanitsky moved for reconsideration of Bucca’s sentence. At that sentencing, Amkhanitsky admitted that because of her actions, “an innocent man lost his life.” She told the judge she had developed PTSD after the accident and suffered panic attacks whenever she was near a car.
She told Bucca she believed she didn’t “belong in prison,” began seeing a psychiatrist soon after the crash and had enrolled in college where she was taking honors classes.
But Buka criticized Amkhanitsky’s statement, saying “it’s all about her” and that she didn’t understand the harm that had been done. He upheld the four-year sentence, saying “there is clearly an individual need to deter this defendant from further criminal activity.”
Amkhanitsky then appealed, leading to Tuesday’s decision.
The appellate court wrote that Buca’s weighing of the factors was an “abuse of discretion” because it was not “supported by competent and credible evidence in the record.”
The court also noted that “THC levels in the blood are generally considered a poor indicator of impairment” and that traces of THC can be found in the blood for days or weeks. Many states, the court noted, have a 5 nanogram limit for legal intoxication, up from the 3.7 nanogram level it had.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his Somerset and Hunterdon County articles, please register or activate your digital account
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Marlboro woman to be sentenced in Old Bridge vehicular homicide