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. ••EndFragment