David Babka, the man whose wife and daughter were killed in late 2012 when a tractor-trailer crashed into their car, buried his face in a tissue as the Russian truck driver pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and other charges Thursday morning.
He cried as his brother, Joseph, gave a victim impact statement in Washington County Judge John DiSalle’s courtroom and explained how the fatal crash along Interstate 70 in South Strabane Township devastated the family.
“This didn’t just impact one person who drove that truck negligently,” Joseph Babka said while sternly raising his voice. “You took three lives. You took my brother’s life. He walks around like a zombie. You killed him.”
Yevgeniy Bugreyev, 45, who is originally from Russia but resides in West Sacramento, Calif., pleaded guilty to two counts each of vehicular homicide and aggravated assault by vehicle, along with several traffic citations. Bugreyev either fell asleep or passed out, as his defense attorney contends, and his rig traveled across the median and crashed into an eastbound car Nov. 24, 2012.
Karen Babka, 57, and her 21-year-old daughter, Kaitlin Babka, both of Hughesville, Md., died at the scene, and two other people were seriously injured when another car crashed into the trailer.
Joseph Babka said the two women were returning to their home in Maryland after visiting David Babka in Ohio for the Thanksgiving holiday after he relocated there for work. He had heard about the crash and waited hours to receive news from police that his wife and daughter were killed.
“This has been hard on David,” Joseph Babka said. “He had to suffer in misery knowing something was wrong.”
David Babka sobbed through most of the hourlong plea hearing and subsequent sentencing. DiSalle sentenced Bugreyev to 2 ½ to 5 years in prison, the maximum allowed by law, and ordered that he pay $15,099 to the family for funeral expenses, among other restitution. However, the guilty plea does not mean Bugreyev, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will be deported back to Russia. Bugreyev, who has been in jail since the crash, will receive credit for time served and serve the remainder of his sentence at a state prison.
“I hope you can find some remorse and feelings while you’re in prison,” Joseph Babka said.
Bugreyev’s defense attorney, Josh Camson, contended that the trucker “passed out” due to blood pressure problems before the rig crashed. Investigators, though, found discrepancies in his driving log book that indicated he may have fallen asleep while driving.
“I was almost in a coma,” Bugreyev said in broken English. “I didn’t have to fall asleep.”
DiSalle asked him if he fully understood the plea and if he agreed to being negligent. Bugreyev paused for a moment before saying he understood.
“I hope you appreciate the seriousness of the effects on all of these lives,” DiSalle said.
Before leaving the courtroom, Bugreyev whispered quietly to his female interpreter.
“Sorry,” the interpreter said to the judge. “I’m very sorry.”
The vehicle, its trailer and the nearly 39 tons of bagged rock salt it was carrying will be forfeited to the district attorney’s office so the scrap metal and product can be sold to help pay restitution to the family and other parties. The family indicated it plans to file a civil lawsuit in federal court against Bugreyev, his trucking company and the owner of the vehicle.