Wild ride will land drunken driver in state prison


Dozens of Ta­cony fam­il­ies will nev­er for­get Kath­leen Am­ato, the bel­li­ger­ent drunk­en driver who hor­ri­fied par­ents and chil­dren last Septem­ber when she tore through their Labor Day week­end block party be­hind the wheel of a minivan.

But Am­ato re­mem­bers barely a thing about it.

On Monday, Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge Ger­ard A. Kos­in­ski gave Am­ato some time to jog her memory, or­der­ing her to serve one to two years in state pris­on, in ad­di­tion to a county pris­on sen­tence of three to six months.

“We were for­tu­nate that this wasn’t a ma­jor, ma­jor tragedy,” Kos­in­ski told Am­ato from the bench.

The judge also sus­pen­ded Am­ato’s driver’s li­cense for a year, fined her $1,000 and ordered her to pay about $800 in prop­erty dam­age to one of the vic­tim­ized par­ents.

Am­ato, 52, of Wil­low Grove, ef­fect­ively threw her­self upon the mercy of the court, de­scrib­ing her­self as a long­time al­co­hol­ic in need of re­hab­il­it­a­tion.

“I don’t re­mem­ber a lot of it,” Am­ato said. “I would nev­er in­ten­tion­ally hurt someone. I was in a black­out. I un­der­stand I’m prob­ably not ever go­ing to drive again. I’m ready to turn in my li­cense. I’m glad I didn’t hurt any­one or kill any­one or my­self.”

No ser­i­ous in­jur­ies res­ul­ted from Am­ato’s mo­tor-vehicle ram­page on the 7100 block of He­ger­man St. last Sept. 4. But she put the fear of death in­to many.

Ac­cord­ing to Marc Haley, a res­id­ent of the block who gave a vic­tim im­pact state­ment on Monday, Am­ato was disheveled, dirty and vis­ibly drunk when she stumbled upon the block party. At the time, Am­ato was liv­ing on the 9600 block of Ashton Road in the Far North­east. She had no known friends or fam­ily on the block, Haley said.

Soon, Am­ato began ar­guing with res­id­ents and ask­ing to use a bath­room. When Haley in­ter­vened, Am­ato dis­ap­peared around a corner.

A short while later, Am­ato re­appeared driv­ing a minivan, which she crashed through two cars parked at the end of the block. Am­ato screamed “How do you like me now?” to neigh­bors as she plowed ahead to­ward a group of chil­dren on an in­flat­able 7-foot-tall wa­ters­lide, Haley said.

The people scattered out of her way, but she ran over a scoot­er and the wa­ters­lide, said Haley, whose 3-year-old god­daugh­ter was among the young­sters in Am­ato’s path. Haley suffered cuts and bruises to his hand when he reached in­to the minivan try­ing to neut­ral­ize Am­ato.

Even­tu­ally, Am­ato drove away, but Haley fol­lowed her in his work truck and caught up with her on nearby Dis­ston Street. Po­lice soon ar­rived and ar­res­ted her.

“She was wasted,” Haley said. “She was lucky none of the par­ents got her at the block party be­cause she wouldn’t be sit­ting here today.”

Sev­er­al oth­er par­ents sub­mit­ted prin­ted vic­tim im­pact state­ments for the re­cord, but they did not testi­fy on Monday.

Once in po­lice cus­tody, Am­ato re­mained bel­li­ger­ent, ac­cord­ing to As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mark Gilson. With her clothes soiled by her own ur­ine and vomit, she re­fused to take a blood test, dropped to the po­lice sta­tion floor “kick­ing and scream­ing” and swore at po­lice of­ficers, the pro­sec­utor said.

In­side a jail cell, Am­ato re­moved her pants.

“This one is the moth­er of all drunk-driv­ing cases,” Gilson said. “It was in­ten­tion­al. It was de­lib­er­ate. It was in­ten­ded to place oth­ers in danger of ser­i­ous phys­ic­al harm.”

Am­ato offered a more brief ac­count of events.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing parked on the side, kind of in a block party, and re­mem­ber leav­ing,” she said.

Am­ato has had a series of al­co­hol-re­lated ar­rests in re­cent times, along with a hor­rible driv­ing re­cord, Gilson said.

At the time of the He­ger­man Street in­cid­ent, Am­ato was free on bail in a dis­orderly con­duct case from Mont­gomery County. She later pleaded guilty to the sum­mary of­fense and was ordered to pay a $50 fine and $176 in court costs.

On March 5, she pleaded guilty in Phil­adelphia to DUI, reck­less en­dan­ger­ment and crim­in­al mis­chief for the He­ger­man Street in­cid­ent. But while free on bail and await­ing sen­ten­cing, Am­ato was ar­res­ted in Middletown Town­ship, Bucks County, on April 5 for DUI and leav­ing the scene of an ac­ci­dent.

She is sched­uled to ap­pear today at a DUI plea hear­ing in Bucks County.

As a driver, Am­ato had been cited pre­vi­ously for speed­ing, run­ning a red light and driv­ing with a sus­pen­ded li­cense. She also has been in­volved in “four pri­or re­port­able ac­ci­dents,” Gilson said.

“This wo­man is not fit to drive in any cir­cum­stances,” the pro­sec­utor said.

De­fense at­tor­ney Mi­chael Alan Shecht­man ar­gued that Am­ato is sick, rather than ma­li­cious.

“She did have and does have an al­co­hol prob­lem. She is sick,” Shecht­man said. “Her ac­tions are hein­ous, but to sug­gest it was pre­med­it­ated in nature just is not true.”

Am­ato told the court she’s been an al­co­hol­ic for “20 or 30 years,” and that she had been tak­ing pre­scrip­tion med­ic­a­tions for de­pres­sion, anxi­ety and chron­ic pain.

She’s been on dif­fer­ent med­ic­a­tions since April and has par­ti­cip­ated in re­hab­il­it­a­tion pro­grams, in­clud­ing Al­co­hol­ics An­onym­ous.

“I’m really try­ing to turn my life around and get the help that I need,” Am­ato said.

Her daugh­ter, Kath­ryn Am­ato, cor­rob­or­ated her moth­er’s testi­mony.

“She’s liv­ing in a sober liv­ing house. She’s go­ing to Al­co­hol­ics An­onym­ous meet­ings. She’s do­ing everything that’s asked of her,” the young­er Am­ato said.

Gilson ar­gued that the eld­er Am­ato should have sought help soon­er, con­sid­er­ing her long-term sub­stance ab­use and the prob­lems it has caused her in the past.

“It’s clear Kath­leen Am­ato has a drink­ing prob­lem and that’s her prob­lem. But her drink­ing and driv­ing prob­lem, get­ting be­hind the wheel of a car and us­ing that car as a weapon, that’s every­body’s prob­lem. That’s the com­munity’s prob­lem,” Gilson said. ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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