Jail saves drunken driver from sentencing

Waiting for justice has become a burden on residents of the Tacony street where a drunken driver last September jeopardized dozens of lives as she plowed her minivan through a Labor Day block party.

But waiting has become a big problem for defendant Kathleen Amato, too. With her sentencing in that case pending, suburban police arrested Amato on April 5 on new drunken-driving charges.

Amato, 52, of Willow Grove, didn’t show up for her Philadelphia sentencing hearing last Wednesday because she was behind bars at Bucks County prison, unable to post $20,000 bail.

Meanwhile, her frustrated Philadelphia victims are glad for one thing — at least she’s off the roads for the time being.

“This is ridiculous. She should’ve been incarcerated and she [was] still out there,” said Marc Haley, a resident of the 7100 block of Hegerman St. who attended last week’s court session with his fiancee, Anna Bozarth.

Haley’s 3-year-old goddaughter was among many neighborhood children who escaped harm during last year’s episode as were Bozarth’s son, 8, and daughter, 12.

Haley and Bozarth went to Philadelphia’s Municipal Court last Wednesday hoping to give victim impact statements and urge the court for a stiff sentence.

Prison time might not be mandatory for Amato, said Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, but he will seek it. Amato was charged in Philadelphia as a first-time offender and pleaded guilty on March 5 to DUI, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

According to Haley, the trouble began when a disheveled and seemingly intoxicated Amato walked into their block party and asked neighbors to use a bathroom. Neighbors told her to get lost.

“They said to her, ‘Who’s your family? Go use the bathroom at their house,’ ” Haley recalled.

Amato apparently didn’t appreciate the response, so more words were exchanged before Amato walked around the corner.

Minutes later, she returned driving a minivan, Haley said. Amato rammed through cars parked at the end of the block as a makeshift barricade and drove straight for an inflatable waterslide in the street. According to Gilson, Amato screamed, “How do you like me now?”

Meanwhile, neighbors scrambled to avoid her, moving objects and children from her path.

“My son was in the water slide at the time,” Bozarth said. “There were a lot of kids in there and she came down the street and just kept going.”

When Amato finally stopped, neighbors surrounded her and tried to pull her from her vehicle, Haley said. But she stepped on the gas pedal.

“She kept giving it gas and stopping and laughing,” Haley said.

Amato managed to miss Haley’s work van at the opposite end of the block and drove into the surrounding neighborhood. Haley and others followed her for a short distance until she came to a crashing halt with flat tires.

Police soon arrived and arrested Amato, who at the time lived at an address on the 9600 block of Ashton Road in the Northeast.

According to a police report, Amato continued to misbehave at the 15th district headquarters, refusing to have a blood sample taken or to be placed in a jail cell. She threw herself to the floor, swore at officers and removed her pants, the report said.

In court last week, Gilson said that Amato was free on bail and supposedly in the care of an in-patient behavioral health program in Roxborough on April 5. That day, court records show, Middletown Township police arrested her for driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs as well as reckless endangerment and causing an accident involving property damage.

Gilson said Philadelphia authorities normally would have arranged to have Amato brought here for last week’s hearing. But leading up to the court date, there was some confusion as to whether she was going to post bail and show up on her own.

Her Philadelphia sentencing was rescheduled for June 25. In Bucks County, she is scheduled for a May 25 arraignment and a June 27 plea hearing. ••