Driver who killed cyclist receives prison sentence
For four months, Cynthia Taylor drove aimlessly all over Allegheny and the surrounding counties, looking everywhere for the white GMC Sierra that police believed struck her son, killing him.
She would follow pickup trucks along the highway and take photographs of them.
“No matter what, I would not stop looking,” she said Thursday.
Brandon Ortmann, 24, of Ambridge had been riding his bicycle along Steubenville Pike about 8 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2015, when he was struck in the face by the side view mirror of a passing pickup that kept going.
He was thrown from his bicycle and suffered devastating head injuries.
Mr. Ortmann died the next morning at Allegheny General Hospital.
North Fayette police led the investigation, and after they and Ms. Taylor put up a billboard on Interstate 376 seeking details about the vehicle involved, investigators got a tip.
They found parts of a side mirror and fender on the property of Zachary Chicko that matched
evidence from the crime scene. He was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving on a suspended license.
On Thursday, Chicko, 32, who was found guilty in a non-jury trial in July, was ordered to serve three to six years in state prison. He will be eligible for parole after 27 months.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Thomas E. Flaherty determined that a three-year mandatory minimum penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal accident applied in the case, over the objection of defense attorney Lee Rothman.
“If Mr. Chicko would have stopped, we would not be here today. It would have been Over the next several deemed years, Ms. Taylor said, Mr. an accident,” Ortmann had his own struggles. the He hid his feelings from judge said. his family and refused to go
During to counseling. the sentencing He had a series of mostly minor run-ins with the law, hearing, including disorderly conduct Ms. Taylor for fighting, drug possession, recounted burglary and driving on a suspended license. for the But then he met a woman court her son's life — from a with whom he planned to warm and loving childhood share his life. to troubled teen years while Still with a suspended license, he dealt with his father, who Mr. Ortmann rode his battled depression and alcoholism. bicycle everywhere — determined not to break the law
On June 15, 2009, when he anymore and get his life was 18, Mr. Ortmann received back on the right track. a disturbing call from “Brandon was determined his father, she said. He to beat his demons,” rushed to the man's home Ms. Taylor said. and found him dead. “I was, and still am, so
He had killed himself. proud of him for facing his consequences head-on.”
Shayla Talbott, Mr. Ortmann's girlfriend of two years, noted the irony that neither the driver nor victim had a valid driver's license at the time of the crash.
“He's gone because someone chose to drive illegally, and Brandon did not,” she said.
At the time of the crash, Mr. Ortmann was planning to ask his girlfriend to move in with him.
She described him as artistic and adventurous, sensitive and kind.
“He was the love of my life,” she said. “I know I'll never meet someone like him ever again.”
Mr. Ortmann's family criticized what they perceived as Chicko's lack of remorse and his failure to come forward in the months after the crash.
Instead, Ms. Taylor continued, he went home, went on with his life, and had the damage to his truck repaired.
Less than two months after his arrest, on March 10, 2016, Chicko was stopped again, in Westmoreland County, for driving on a suspended license.
Ms. Taylor described her son as a loving child who craved a stable home life. When his father began to experience depression and alcoholism during Mr. Ortmann's teen years, she said, it was difficult for him.
Jamila Olowinski, Mr. Ortmann's sister, told Judge Flaherty that she held her mom's hand in the delivery room when her brother took his first breath, and she held her mom's hand in the hospital when he took his last.
She described her brother, 11 years her junior, as having a great relationship with her that stayed close even after she grew up and moved away.
Ms. Olowinski doesn’t want Mr. Ortmann to be known as “the victim,” “the decedent,” or “the bicyclist,” but as her little brother.
“Zach's life should forever be changed,” she said. “He should not get to leave this courtroom a free man.”
Chicko asked the court for mercy, noting that he is engaged, cares for his fiance's daughter, and works 70 hours a week at two jobs.
“I did not know at the time what had struck my truck,” he said. "I am infinitely sorry for my involvement in that accident.
“I can't express enough sorrow to the family.”