David Strowhouer sat meekly inside a Delaware County courtroom Thursday and accepted responsibility for taking a life during a drunken stupor in February.
The family of Deana Eckman — her husband, mother, and father — welcomed Strowhouer’s guilty plea to third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, and a host of other felonies in the crash that killed her in Upper Chichester Township.
Those criminal offenses carry a maximum penalty of 85 years in prison, depending on how Judge Mary Alice Brennan sentences Strowhouer in November.
To Eckman’s family, it was the first time the 30-year-old had truly faced the consequences of his actions, after five DUI convictions in nine years.
“As narcissistic as he is, I’m surprised he folded as quickly as he did,” Richard DeRosa said on the steps of the county courthouse in Media. “But it’s the right thing to do. He had no choice."
DeRosa and his wife, Roseann, accepted the plea. It spared their family from having to relive their daughter’s final moments during a lengthy trial.
“You wake up and think this is the day that the nightmare is over,” Roseann DeRosa said. “But it never is."
Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDevitt, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Strowhouer deserved a lengthy sentence, given the “damage he’s caused to the DeRosa family.”
“He’s proven to be a menace to the public for many years now,” McDevitt said. “And, unfortunately, Deana Eckman had to lose her life to keep him off the road.”
Strowhouer’s attorney, Brian Malloy, declined to comment after the proceedings.
Strowhouer, of Willistown, killed Eckman on Feb. 16 while driving his father’s pickup truck after a day of drinking at his mother’s memorial service, investigators said.
His brother and sister-in-law, in testimony at his preliminary hearing, said they had tried to prevent him from taking the vehicle, and ran after him when he left their home to climb into its driver’s seat.
Surveillance footage from the home, played during Thursday’s hearing, shows a visibly intoxicated Strowhouer falling down a flight of stairs before unsteadily stumbling into the truck. Minutes later, after his brother unsuccessfully pleaded with him to come back inside, Strowhouer is seen pulling out of a parking spot and narrowly missing backing into his brother before driving away.
“Deana Eckman dies in a car crash 20 minutes later,” McDevitt said after the footage played.
Strowhouer was speeding down Market Street at 78 mph moments before the crash, the truck’s accelerator “fully engaged,” McDevitt said. He attempted to pass a minivan on the left, and collided head-on with the Subaru RX being driven by Christian Eckman, Deana’s husband.
Deana Eckman was killed almost instantly. Christian Eckman was seriously injured.
After the crash, Strowhouer initially lied to investigators, saying that he was a passenger in the truck and that it had been driven by his cousin. That cousin, police later determined, was in Puerto Rico at the time.
Strowhouer tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, and Valium, investigators said. His driver’s license had been revoked in Pennsylvania, and a second license issued to him in Florida had expired by the time of the crash.
Strowhouer had been paroled from a state prison sentence in Pennsylvania for DUI five months before the fatal crash.
“The system failed us on many levels. He was given a free pass," Roseann DeRosa said. “He had no regard for human life.”