May 21, 2022
OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Nicholas Mineweaser looks at the family of Emmaline Wilcox as he expresses his sorrow. Judge Paul Wojtaszek is pictured right, on the bench.
MAYVILLE — Seventeen weekends behind bars.
That was the sentence handed down by Judge Paul Wojtaszek to Nicholas Mineweaser for driving while ability impaired with drugs.
On Feb. 24, 2020, Mineweaser rear ended a vehicle on Route 60 in the town of Pomfret, driven by Shanna Wilcox of Cassadaga, which caused that vehicle to be struck by a tractor trailer. Her 7-year-old daughter, Emmaline, perished in the accident.
Mineweaser was charged with manslaughter. However, following a non-jury trial by Wojtaszek, he was found not guilty.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt had asked Mineweaser be sentenced to one year in jail, the maximum allowed for a guilty conviction for driving while ability impaired. “One of the purposes of punishment is to prevent crime, not just specific to the defendant but it’s also generalized to the outer community,” he said.
Schmidt noted that since Mineweaser’s arrest, marijuana has been legalized in New York state. He envisions more people getting into vehicles and driving high. Because of this, Schmidt said he wanted Wojtaszek to let people know of the consequences.
“Send a message to the community that when you operate a motor vehicle and you’re impaired by marijuana, you could kill somebody and there’s a price to be paid for that,” he said, raising his voice to near yelling.
Before Schmidt spoke, Aaron Wilcox, Emmaline’s cousin, spoke to the court. “I know I’m not supposed to ask questions, but my statement is in the form of a question. And that my question is why?”
Wilcox continued, his voice trembling, “Why can’t I see her at my grandparents house on a snowy day, curled up in blankets watching Netflix because a 4-year-old can operate an Xbox better than I can? … Why do I have to imagine that I’ll see her tomorrow even though that I’ll never see her smile again,” he said.
Wilcox said he couldn’t understand how the judge could find Mineweaser guilty of driving while ability impaired but innocent of taking a life. “The accident reconstructionist told you that,” he said.
As Wilcox was speaking, his family could be heard weeping. “It makes no sense to the community, to law enforcement … We demand an answer as a family,” he said.
After Wilcox and Schmidt, Mineweaser’s attorney, Michael Dwan, spoke on behalf of his client. He reminded the court that Mineweaser was found not guilty to manslaughter and asked the judge for his sentencing to reflect that.
Even though Mineweaser was found not guilty, Dwan said his client is forever changed. “My client has been destroyed by what happened — absolutely destroyed. He wishes he could do it over but we all know that’s not possible,” he said.
The trial began Nov. 2 and had multiple delays. Wojtaszek didn’t issue his sentence until Jan. 7. With such a long time between beginning the trial, the decision and the sentencing, Dwan asked the judge to sentence Mineweaser to time served.
“Normally on a first offense, driving while impaired by drugs, the defendant would not even receive probation. The defendant is normally sentenced to a one year conditional discharge,” he said.
After Dwan spoke, the judge invited Mineweaser to speak, which he did. Neither Shanna Wilcox, nor her parents were in court, but other family members were. Mineweaser looked at the family and began to weep. “I know there is absolutely no words out there that I could tell you guys to make you feel any better. I beat myself up every day and it’s still not enough,” he said.
Mineweaser pledged to never smoke marijuana in a vehicle again and said he will always have regrets for the crash. “All I really can say is I’m sorry. If there’s absolutely any way that I can help, please let me know,” he said.
When the time came to issue his sentence, Wojtaszek said he realized it was a highly emotional case that involved the loss of life of a 7-year-old girl. But he pledged to do justice as the law requires. After listening to the testimony in court Friday and reading the victim impact statements provided, he said he would sentence Mineweaser to an intermittent sentence of four months, beginning the first Friday in June until the last Sunday in September.
Schmidt explained after the sentencing that an intermittent sentence allows a defendant to be incarcerated on the weekends but out during the week so that person can still be employed. That time will be served at the Chautauqua County Jail.
Along with the jail time, Mineweaser was additionally sentenced to three years probation, had his driver’s license revoked for six months, was fined $700 and another $395 for court fees.
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