WARSAW — “It’s devastating. Nothing can happen to bring Ronald (Strieby) back. There is pain on both sides,” stated Kosciusko County Superior 3 Judge Joe Sutton during the sentencing of Skylar Kuta, 23, 9122 N. 500E, Syracuse, Wednesday morning, July 31. Kuta was charged with failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in death, following the Sept. 11 hit-and-run accident that killed Ronald Strieby, 70, Syracuse.
Sutton offered condolences to the Strieby family for their great loss.
Sutton sentenced Kuta to 90 days hard block time in the Kosciusko County Jail, followed by the remaining 640 days — approximately 21 months — to be served on work release and three years on formal probation. Should Kuta not be accepted into work release by any surrounding counties, the 640 days will be served in the county jail. The judge stated he would not be opposed to modifying the sentence after that 90 days to possible community corrections. His sentence was within the perimeters of his plea agreement, in which no more than two years of incarceration would be served. The charge is a level 5 felony, which carries a one- to six-year sentence.
Kuta is to report to the Kosciusko County Jail by 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 31.
Strieby was struck by a vehicle around 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, on CR 800N and CR 650E, near North Webster. Strieby was riding a bicycle westbound when he was stuck by a truck that had left the scene. Strieby was found unresponsive lying along the roadway and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Kosciusko County Coroner’s Office. Through the help of the community, Kuta was located several days later and police found his 2007 Chevrolet 2500 HD Silverado with an extended cab. The vehicle had extensive damage to the passenger side front corner. Kuta told police he was driving on CR 800N at the time Strieby was struck. He stated he thought he hit a deer and admitted to neither stopping to check what he hit nor reporting the incident to law enforcement.
Sutton recognized a split decision when driving sometimes is the wrong decision and it’s not a crime “until you leave. When you leave a scene without rendering aide, it’s a crime.” He stated he read the information before him at length. The judge noted his assessment of the situation: that Kuta tried to avoid a possible deer, given the farm fields on either side, but witnesses saw him speed off down the road and police found burned car parts at his home. “I think you panicked, sped off and tried to hide it but had a change of heart,” said Sutton, noting Kuta turned himself in.
“Ronald deserved better than that,” the judge said. Stating Kuta should have gone back, gone to the nearest home, called law enforcement, checked the truck out under light and reported he hit something. “We don’t know if the time would have made a difference … You should have stopped. It was a horrible accident. Ronald deserved better. You drove away and left him laying there. Perhaps he died instantly, or he lingered. It will always be in the family’s mind. This event will haunt you the rest of your life … nothing I do today can change or fix it.
“It’s not a good situation. You’re a young guy … not a hardened criminal,” Sutton continued, also referring to testimony by three members of the Strieby family who testified he should be punished, but they did not want his life ruined.
Kuta himself took the stand, addressing the Strieby family and stating how sorry he was numerous times. “I’m sorry you are going through this,” he said, noting he loses sleep nightly and often cannot sleep. “I should have stopped. I was wrong. I’m sorry. I think about it all the time … I’m sorry.”
Strieby’s widow, Elizabeth, and their two sons, Brian and Adam, took the stand to offer sentencing statements. Adam Strieby was the first to give a statement. He noted he had driven that stretch of road hundreds of times at the exact time of day, at various speeds and he’d read the police report. He noted Kuta had driven off the road 286 feet and was in the ditch 60 feet before hitting his father on a red bicycle. He admitted it was a difficult spot. “I can’t fault you for reaction, but you swerved into the ditch guaranteeing you’d hit him. If you would have kept straight, you wouldn’t have hit him …. You didn’t see a deer. It was my dad.”
Adam Strieby stated the problem he has is because Kuta didn’t stop. “We don’t know how long he laid there, what he went through … it shook the community, everyone in the area, people close to you were messengering you. Why didn’t you reach out? … should have stopped, now we kind of know how long he laid out there. I’ve thought about it. I hope you thought about it, and it’s had an impact on you. We wouldn’t want to see your life ruined. We hope they give you a certain amount of time to sit there where it’s the only thing you can think about … you should have stopped that was my dad. You didn’t see a deer.”
Statements from Mrs. Strieby and Brian Strieby were emotional. Mrs. Strieby noted the best day of her life was the day she married her husband, and they had 48 years of marriage. “It’s not always easy … you don’t get a rose garden.” She stated the worst day of her life was the day her husband was killed.
Brian Strieby noted his brother stated what needed to be said eloquently. “I hope you realize, know and hope you know the pain your actions caused the family. We all make mistakes … not stopping immediately, that’s where I fault you. I’ve forgiven you for the accident. I’m struggling for the not stopping … giving you the benefit of the doubt you thought you hit a deer … we don’t want to ruin your life. I hope this is a stepping stone for greatness.”
Joe Sobeck, deputy prosecuting attorney, and John Barrett, defense attorney, both noted the monumental aspect of the case and the loss of life. “Perhaps there is no justice,” Sobeck said, encouraging the court to take into account the statements from the family and for the court to consider a period of incarceration and the importance stopping following an accident. “He may have survived. Maybe not.”
Barrett expressed Kuta’s remorsefulness for his actions and how his actions will punish him for a long time. “I hope he gets appropriate help, to help him deal with that. This is a different case than a robbery gone wrong,” Barrett stated. “It was a terrible accident that resulted in the loss of a life. It is clear to him his vehicle was being sought; he called the sheriff’s department and turned himself in … long-term terrible consequences that can’t be taken back.” He recognized the pain and hurt the Strieby family is suffering but also noted Kuta’s family is dealing with the heartache of Kuta’s action, too. He asked the judge to consider the families on both sides and to be fair to both. “The end result remains the same, it can never change regardless what happens today.”