TRENTON – A state appellate court ordered a Monmouth County woman to be resentenced on a vehicular homicide charge in the death of an Old Bridge man in a pedestrian crash in February 2020.
Amy Amkhanitsky, 20, of Marlboro, was sentenced to four years in state prison by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca in the death of 69-year-old Richard Lockwood III, who was struck while crossing on Route 34 in the area of Triangle Drive on Feb. 5, 2020.
But the appellate court ruled Tuesday that Bucca, in his Aug. 4, 2022 sentencing and later resentencing, did not properly consider the aggravating and mitigating factors in sentencing Amkhanitsy, who was 17 at the time of the accident but waived her right to be tried as a juvenile.
Amkhanitsky was paroled on June 15. The resentencing, which will be conducted by a different judge within 30 days, will affect any future sentence if she violates the terms of her parole.
After a blood test revealed the presence of marijuana, Amkhanitsky was charged with first-degree manslaughter, reckless vehicular homicide and aggravated assault.
In a plea negotiation with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Amkhanitsky, who told police she took two hits of marijuana from a vape pen about four hours before the accident, pleaded guilty to third-degree vehicular homicide in exchange for a recommendation that she will be given a five-year jail term with an opportunity to argue for a lesser sentence.
Amkhanitsky, who was a high school senior at the time of the crash, was driving on a dark stretch of Route 34 and approaching a hill when she failed to see Lockwood crossing the road at about 7:30 p.m. She immediately called 911 and stayed at the scene. Court papers say police did not observe her to be under the influence of any substance and they did not give any field sobriety tests, although one 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 the high of marijuana, which Robert Pandina, the retired director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers, said caused her to be intoxicated.
At her sentencing. Amkhanitsky, admitted she was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash, and she understood the consequences of her actions. She also said, “being sorry isn’t going to bring anyone back or reverse time” and she was receiving medical treatment “to avoid this from ever happening again to anyone.”
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 “outweigh” the seriousness of the crime and did not warrant a downgrade to a probationary term.
The judge noted he had an obligation “to send a strong and consistent message to the community at large, in an effort for general deterrence, that driving under the influence of any drug, is a very serious matter.”
Amkhanitsky moved for reconsideration of her sentence which Bucca granted. At that sentencing, Amkhanitsky admitted that because of her actions “an innocent man lost his life.” She told the judge she had developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the crash and suffered from panic attacks whenever she was near a car.
She told Bucca that she believed she didn’t “belong in jail,” began seeing a psychiatrist immediately after the crash and had enrolled in college where she was taking honors courses.
But Bucca criticized Amkhanitsky’s statement, saying it was “all about her” and she failed to appreciate the harm that had been done. He affirmed the four-year sentence, saying “there is clearly an individual need to deter this defendant from further criminal activity.”
Amkhanitsky then appealed, which led to Tuesday’s ruling.
The appellate court wrote that Bucca’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 blood levels are generally considered a poor indicator of impairment” and traces of THC can be found in blood for days or weeks. Many states, the court noted, have a 5 nanogram limit for legal intoxication, above the 3.7 nanogram, level she had.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Marlboro woman to be resentenced in Old Bridge vehicular homicide