Circuit court

CHERYL HIGGINSON | Daily News

Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola discusses a case during proceedings of 51st Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon in Ludington. Spaniola was making a point about a case concerning Nicholas Kawula, far left, as Kawula’s attorney, James Marek, listened.

A Whitehall man who was charged following a 2019 accident that claimed the life of Christopher Patrick Kapala of Scottville was sentenced to serve his sentence with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Nicholas Francis Kawula, 34, of Whitehall, was sentenced Tuesday to 19 months to 15 years in prison for the Dec. 14, 2019, accident and to pay restitution of more than $3,000 for Kapala’s funeral expenses. Kawula pleaded no contest to a charge of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants causing death in September.

Family members of both the victim and the defendant were present in the courtroom Tuesday.

Donna Kapala, Christopher’s mother, addressed the court trying to explain the unbearable pain she and her family have endured for almost the last year.

Kawula also addressed the court saying there were some days he wished it was he who had died in the accident instead of Christopher.

At the conclusion of the proceedings he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs to be transported to the Mason County Jail to await transport to a MDOC facility. His wife hugged him before he left and then ran screaming from the courtroom after flinging the swinging doors open to the hallway.

“There is no good answer here,” 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan K. Sniegowski told those present for the proceedings. “This is an easy thing that could happen to anyone. People that drink and drive aren’t necessarily bad people. They are people who just made bad decisions.

“This is an extremely difficult, tragic situation,” she continued. “Both of these families have gone through unimaginable pain. This is why we have these laws to guide us, in hopes that no one will have to go through this. It’s why you don’t drink and drive.

“As in this case Mr. Kawula has the rest of his life to live and he needs to be punished for what he did,” Judge Sniegowski continued. “But when he gets out of prison, he can go back to his wife and children and live the rest of his life.

“Mr.Kapala will never have the chance to do any of those things.”

Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola echoed the judge’s comments.

“These cases are always difficult,” he said. “Here we have a life that was senselessly snuffed out all because of the choice that Mr. Kawula made.

“He was driving home from a Christmas party in Traverse City, while Chris was on his way to work that morning,” he continued. “Mr. Kapala won’t be around for his 2-year-old son anymore because of the choice that Mr. Kawula made.

“These are charges and situations that society take seriously, I take seriously,” he added, asking the judge to adhere to the sentencing guidelines of 19-38 months.

“We can’t imagine what you and your family have gone through,” Donna Kapala tearfully told Kawula. “But then you can’t imagine what we have gone through.

“You have taken a father, a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin away from us, all because of the decision that you made that night.”

She said the family could not even fulfill Chris’ last wish, which was to be an organ donor, because his body was so badly damaged in the accident.

“He would help anyone with car or home repairs, or anything he could,” Donna continued. “He gave his spare tire to a poor man who was broken down and didn’t have a spare.

“His son now will have to grow up with no dad,” she said. “He will never be able to teach his son to hunt or fish or take him to his first day of school. He will never know the joy of being a grandparent.

“It’s 10 months later and I still cry daily. You, you will go away for awhile, but when you come back you’ll be able to see your family and participate in their lives. Chris will never be able to do that.

“He will never be able to give me a hug again and tell me he loves me,” she added tearfully.

“There is no denying it’s a tragedy when a life is lost,” Kawula’s attorney James Marek told the court. “But I think we have to take a look at what Nick has done since the accident. He has enrolled in counseling to learn the best way how to navigate his life now and the punishment he knows he has coming.

“He has no priors before this and has been a productive member of society,” Marek continued. “He had a wife and two children.”

Marek said he had not seen in the pre-sentence investigation that Kawula had slept for three to four hours after the party that night and thought that would be enough sleep to be able to drive home.

“Whether he was drunk and tired or just tired we don’t know,” Marek said, “but he fell asleep at the wheel.”

Marek went on to ask the judge to give Kawula jail time instead of prison time.

“Mr. Kawula is not prepared for what lies ahead of him,” Marek said. “He has no idea the type of things that go on in prison.”

Judge Sniegowski pointed out the fact that Kawula’s blood alcohol content was .10 more than two hours after the accident.

“Dec. 14 when I decided to drive home I had no idea the changes that were about to come into my life and the lives of other people,” Kawula said when it was his time to address the court.

Kawula said he battled depression and that following the accident he was distraught and in shock, trying to come to grip with what had happened.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry to everyone that I have hurt,” Kawula said. “I’m sorry for the pain that I have caused everyone.”

“Most days I wish that it had been me that died in that crash instead of Chris.”

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