WILKES-BARRE — Inez Lewis recalled gazing at her daughter’s lifeless body, struggling to grasp how someone could drive drunk, run down another person and leave them dying on the side of the road.
It was unimaginable, Lewis said, that someone could be so selfish.
“That danger resulted in the death of my 31-year-old daughter, Paula,” she said, fighting through tears.
Lewis’ words came after her daughter’s killer, Michael J. Scavone, agreed to plead guilty Friday in Luzerne County Court to charges stemming from the June 7, 2015, hit-and-run that claimed the life of Paula Jones and prompted sweeping changes to traffic laws at Harveys Lake.
Scavone, 51, of Harveys Lake, pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, two counts of driving under the influence, and a single count of accidents involving death or personal injury. Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas accepted Scavone’s plea, as well as his attorney’s request for immediate sentencing.
Scavone will serve between seven and 16 years in state prison.
A shackled Scavone erupted in tears during a short statement to the court, saying, “I never meant to hurt anybody. I’m truly sorry.”
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who prosecuted the case along with assistant district attorneys Thomas Hogans and Michelle Hardik, said though the Jones family received a bit of closure, a hole remained in their lives that “will never be filled again.”
“This has been a very difficult case, a very heart-wrenching case, to lose such a beautiful woman,” she said following the hearing. “But we had a great sentencing today and (Scavone) will be facing a lot of time in prison.”
Salavantis noted the sentence was county’s first use of Kevin’s Law, legislation passed in 2014 that increased the prison sentence of those who flee the scene of an accident involving death. The law was named in memory of 5-year-old Kevin Miller, a Dallas boy killed in a December 2012 hit-and-run crash.
“That’s why we’re looking at such a significant sentence here,” Salavantis said.
Prosecutors said Scavone struck and killed Jones, of Factoryville, as she jogged along Lakeside Drive at Harveys Lake last summer.
Scavone, a repeat DUI offender who allegedly told investigators he spent the day of the incident drinking beer and Yukon Jack, fled the scene of the crash and was later found sleeping at his mother’s house, prosecutors said. Analysis of his blood indicated he had a blood-alcohol level of .214 some two hours after the crash.
In the months following the fatal hit-and-run, community members rocked by Jones’ death formed a safety committee that pushed for lower speed limits, crosswalks, and a heavier police presence on Lakeside Drive.
Litigation also followed Jones’ death.
Her husband, Brian Jones, filed a 20-page civil suit in August alleging wrongful death and seeking damages against Scavone, American Legion Post 672 in Dallas and several defendants associated with the Grotto Pizza bar and restaurant in Harveys Lake — two locations prosecutors allege Scavone was drinking at prior to the crash.
Attorney Neil O’Donnell, who represents the estate of Paula Jones in the civil matter, said Scavone’s admission was an important acknowledgement for their lawsuit.
“He admitted to drunk driving, he admitted to causing a collision, he admitted to leaving the scene of the collision, and that has a bearing in a civil litigation,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said Jones’ death was “an enormous loss” to her family, particularly her 14-year-old daughter, Kayla.
“It’s a tragedy,” he said, “and we’re going to pursue the best form of civil justice we can.”
Scavone was originally scheduled to appear in court Friday for a bail reduction hearing. A previous bid to reduce his $400,000 bail amount was rejected in December, and a second attempt was withdrawn prior to the start of a hearing in March.
But instead of a third attempt at a reduction, Scavone was led out of the courthouse destined for a lengthy stay in state prison.
“I’m just really happy that it’s over,” Lewis, her eyes shielded behind a pair of dark sunglasses, said following the hearing.
“I really hope this is a lesson for everyone that gets behind the wheel after drinking and driving,” she continued. “It’s devastating, and to lose a child, it’s horrible.”
During the hearing, Lupas said he was “disturbed” by the circumstances of the case, particularly Scavone’s history with alcohol. Lupas said he, too, hoped a lesson would emerge from the matter.
“I don’t think there’s any true justice that can be made out of this incident,” the judge said. “But hopefully, others learn the choices we make can have (a) devastating impact. Life-long impact.”
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL