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Drunk driver to serve two years for death of nephew

Danielle Bobak pleads with family for forgiveness
September 17, 2013
Danielle Bobak pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the death of her two-year-old nephew, Sept. 13. SOURCE DELAWARE STATE POLICE

A Georgetown woman will serve at least two years behind bars for the death of her 2-year-old nephew.

Danielle M. Bobak, 46, was driving eastbound on Whitesville Road near Delmar Nov. 13, 2012, when she ran off the road and struck a tree, said Delaware State Police Cpl. Gary Fournier.

Lleyton Slate, Bobak’s infant nephew was in the car when it crashed.  He was partially ejected from the vehicle because his car seat was not properly secured, Fournier said. Lleyton was flown to Johns Hopkins hospital where he was pronounced dead, Fournier said.

Bobak, who has since pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide, entered the Sussex County Superior Courtroom, Sept. 13, in a bright orange Department of Corrections jumpsuit.  Shortly after her attorney, Thomas Pederson, began his opening comments on the crime, Bobak became visibly shaken and started to cry.

Pederson said Bobak’s blood-alcohol content was 0.09.  The legal limit to drive is 0.08.  “She did her best to secure Lleyton in the car seat,” he said.

Pederson said Bobak is genuinely remorseful for the tragedy.  She has since entered into Thresholds, a substance abuse treatment program, Alcoholics Anonymous and become an active member of her church.

Pederson said Bobak is the child of an alcoholic and has battled alcoholism her entire adult life.  At the time of the collision, Bobak had medication in her car to help treat alcoholism.

Pederson noted the minimum mandatory sentence of one year for the crime.  He asked Judge T. Henley Graves to consider a sentence that allows Bobak to complete the Key Village program – an in-house substance abuse treatment service at the DOC – and suspend the remainder of her sentence to home confinement and probation with alcohol treatment and volunteer service to prevent others from drunk driving.  “There is very little punishment that she hasn’t already given herself,” Pederson said.

When Graves asked Bobak if she would like to say anything before the sentence was issued, Bobak made a teary apology to her family.  “I’m so, so sorry,” Bobak said.  She then turned around to face Lleyton’s parents – Bruce and Tiffany Slate – who were sitting in the gallery.  Crying, Bobak said, “I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to talk to you.”

“I love you, and I miss you all,” she said.  Bobak said she wished it had been her and not Lleyton that had died in the crash.  “If I could trade places, I would.  I’m sorry it wasn’t me that day, and we wouldn’t have to be going through all this.”

“You never know if you have the car seat in right until you have the accident,” Bobak said.  “I’m sorry Bruce and Tiff.  I’m sorry.”

Bruce and Tiffany Slate also addressed the judge before the sentence was handed down.  “Some days it’s hard to get out of bed.  Some days it’s just hard to breathe,” Tiffany said.  “I’m literally living out every mother’s worst nightmare every single day of my life.”

Bruce Slate said he hopes no parent is ever put in his position.  “I miss my little man,” he said.  “I would trade all the years left in my life to give him one more moment of life.  To hear him tell his mother, ‘I love you to the moon and back,’ or to ask me to hold his hand,” Bruce said.

“He taught me how to love harder and care more,” Bruce said.  “I love him and miss him more than most people will ever know.”

About 50 people sat in the gallery. After the Slates had spoken, many people in the courtroom, including those who were there for other cases, sniffled and wiped their eyes with tissues.

Prosecutor Christopher Hutchison said Bobak was not a bad person or the Slates would not have put Lleyton in her care.  “She had a good work history; she stayed out of the criminal justice system,” he said.

“But, when you get down to it, this is a situation that could have been avoided,” he said.  Hutchison said Bobak could have chosen not to drink before she had to watch Lleyton.  “It was 2 p.m.,” he said.  “It was the middle of the day.”

Hutchison said the crime is particularly heinous because a child was killed.  “A child cannot say, ‘Let’s call a cab.  I’m not getting in the car with you.  You’re drunk,’” he said.

“There is really nothing the court can do to bring Lleyton back,” he said.  “How do you put a value or a price on a life that isn’t lived?”

Hutchison also noted Bobak’s blood-alcohol level was 0.09 when she was tested – more than three hours after the crash.  Before she got behind the wheel, Bobak’s blood-alcohol content was higher, he said.

Hutchison asked Graves to sentence Bobak to at least four years in prison.  “There has to be a punishment,” he said.

Graves said four years was too many for second-degree vehicular homicide and sentenced Bobak to two years in prison and successful mandatory completion of the Key Village Program.  After her jail time, Bobak must serve one year at the highest level of probation – Level 4 – and complete the Crest substance abuse treatment program, Graves said.  When Crest is complete, Bobak must serve nine months home confinement, then two years on probation while participating in the Crest aftercare program, Graves said.

Both Pederson and Graves said Bobak’s case was one of the most difficult cases they ever encountered professionally.

Graves asked if the Slates wanted him to issue a no-contact order. After conferring with the Slates in the gallery, Hutchison said, “We don’t need a no-contact your honor.”

Bobak issued a long, audible sigh.  She was then escorted from the courtroom.