Washington man sentenced in traffic death

July 3, 2014
Zachery Reihner

A Washington man who pleaded guilty to killing a 21-year-old passenger last July in a car crash was sentenced Thursday to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison.

Zachery Reihner, 26, of 286 E. Prospect Ave., pleaded guilty before Washington County Judge John DiSalle to vehicular homicide, accidents involving death while not properly licensed, driving while under the influence and failure to drive at a safe speed. DiSalle sentenced him under a negotiated plea agreement and additional charges were not pursued.

On July 14, 2013, police were called to the 200 block of East Maiden Street in Washington, where they found a Jeep Grand Cherokee near a utility pole. Reihner and his passenger, Rebecca Soffel, were pinned inside the vehicle. Reihner was conscious, but police could not see Soffel. She was later pronounced dead at the scene. Reihner was taken to Washington Hospital and transferred to UPMC-Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh for treatment.

Police said Reihner was driving between 77 and 88 mph when he crashed the vehicle into the pole.

Reihner, who had a slight odor of alcohol, told police he and Soffel were drinking at a local bar. Tests showed his blood-alcohol content did not exceed the 0.08 limit presumed for intoxication. He also tested positive for unspecified opiates, police indicated in court documents.

During the hearing Thursday, Soffel’s father, George Soffel, addressed Reihner in court. Soffel said when the crash first happened, he assumed his daughter was killed in a terrible accident. But once he learned how fast Reihner was traveling, a different scenario began to play out in his mind.

“Her biggest fear was being in a car that was going fast,” Soffel said in court. “You pushed her buttons. This was a cruel act.”

Soffel said he was disappointed in the vehicular homicide charge. He said he would have preferred Reihner to be charged with third-degree murder.

“I feel that the court system has no justice for (Rebecca),” he said. “You got away with murder.”

Reihner was on probation at the time of the crash for child endangerment charges. DiSalle said Reihner has already destroyed two families, including his own.

“That’s two,” he said. “Your own son still suffers and now you caused the death of another.”

Reihner briefly apologized to Rebecca Soffel’s family, stating he would take it all back if he could.

“I think about it every day,” he said. “I wish it never happened.”

DiSalle sentenced Reihner to 30 to 60 months in prison for the vehicular homicide charge, 12 to 24 months in prison for the accidents charge, 1 to 6 months in prison for the DUI and a $25 fine for the speed charge. All the sentences run concurrently. Reihner was also given a four-year driver’s license suspension. He will be given credit for the jail time he served prior to his plea and sentencing.

Reihner will remain in the Washington County jail until he is moved to a state prison.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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