Summit Hill man gets 46 months ** Jesse Chuma, 19, will spend more than the minimum time in prison for drunken-driving crash that killed one of his friends — (The Morning Call)

SSRI Ed note: Young man on antidepressants drinks, smokes marijuana, drives with passengers, gets into car chase to evade police, crashes and kills friend.

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The Morning Call

DAVID SLADE Of The Morning Call,  610-379-3222,

 December 1,  2000

 As he waited to be sentenced to state prison for a drunken-driving accident that killed one of his close friends, 19-year-old Jesse Chuma looked like a person who had lost all hope.

The slender man, who at 18 dropped out of Panther Valley High School and sought counseling for depression, apologized for the June crash that killed 17-year-old Robert Baldini Jr. of Lehighton.

He then cried.

“Robert was your friend,” Carbon County Judge John P. Lavelle told Chuma, of Summit Hill. “You’re going to have to carry that boy’s death with you the rest of your life.”

Chuma ran from the wreck, leaving Baldini and two other friends injured in the crash — an action Assistant District Attorney David Addy said he found “incredible.”

Addy and a lawyer representing Baldini’s family didn’t ask that Chuma be given more than the mandatory minimum of three years in prison, but Lavelle ordered a longer sentence.

In a courtroom that, by coincidence, included more than 30 Panther Valley High School seniors on a field trip to observe the court system, Lavelle said perhaps some good would come of what had happened if young people heard about Chuma’s fate.

“When you are sitting in that cell, looking at those four walls and knowing there is nowhere to go, you will know what losing freedom is,” Lavelle told Chuma. “It is going to be a living hell.”

He sentenced Chuma to at least 46 months in state prison, 10 months more than the mandatory minimum because Lavelle ordered two of the sentences to be served consecutively.

Members of Chuma’s family quietly sobbed, and some of the Panther Valley students cried as well.

Chuma’s lawyer, Norman Blatt, said later Thursday that he will file a motion asking the judge to reconsider the sentence.

“We were expecting the mandatory minimum,” Blatt said. “We were hoping that would be all Mr. Chuma would receive.”

Chuma had pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by motor vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol, two counts of aggravated assault while driving drunk, fleeing or eluding police, drunken driving and related offenses.

Most of the charges were consolidated for sentencing purposes under the homicide by motor vehicle charge, though Lavelle also fined Chuma $25 on one of the traffic offenses.

Lavelle noted that he had earlier revoked Chuma’s bail because Chuma admitting smoking marijuana the night before he pleaded guilty.

The judge said Chuma is “probably addicted to pot.”

He noted a hospital report that said Chuma had been smoking marijuana almost daily to help him sleep when he admitted himself for treatment for depression in March.

Chuma told the judge he was prescribed anti-depressant drugs and attended a counseling session but could not afford additional counseling.

Chuma’s father, Robert, told Lavelle he had no idea his son had such serious problems and would have done something to help had he known.

Speaking before the sentence was handed down, Baldini family lawyer Michael Piosa said the family believes there are people who must share with Chuma some of the responsibility for the car wreck that killed Baldini.

“The first questions the Baldini family asked me were: Why did the police initiate the chase, and why did the police continue the chase?” Piosa told Lavelle.

The Baldinis have not filed a lawsuit against the Summit Hill Police Department, but Police Chief Joe Fittos said he thinks they might.

“I’m not going to comment on anything [Piosa] said because litigation might come up,” Fittos said Thursday afternoon.