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Chesco's 'worst' drunken driver sentenced for death

WEST CHESTER Jail stints, home confinement, community service, and counseling didn't deter Robert Landis as he took to Chester County's roadways drunk over the last three decades.

Robert Elwood Landis
Robert Elwood LandisRead more

WEST CHESTER Jail stints, home confinement, community service, and counseling didn't deter Robert Landis as he took to Chester County's roadways drunk over the last three decades.

So on Wednesday - as Landis was sentenced for killing a motorcyclist last year while again behind the wheel intoxicated - a judge used what he called his only solution: warehousing Landis in prison.

"It's just complete indifference to the value of human life," County Court Judge Anthony Sarcione said as he sentenced Landis to serve eight to 17 years. "So many times."

Landis, whom one prosecutor has called the county's worst drunken driver, tallied seven DUIs before killing 24-year-old Liam Crowley in April 2013. At previous hearings, the 50-year-old West Chester man has spoken of his budding sobriety and his desire to keep it.

This time, he didn't bother with promises.

"I know no words can change what happened, and I'm sorry for that," he said.

The victim's mother had stood to leave the courtroom as Landis approached the lectern, but hadn't reached the door before he finished speaking.

Diane Crowley's son was killed when his motorcycle slammed into Landis' truck on Wilmington Pike in Westtown Township as Landis pulled into oncoming traffic while heading home from a local bar. Landis' blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal definition of drunken driving, authorities said.

Prosecutor Chuck Gaza said Landis was so incapacitated that he had leaned onto Crowley's body at the gasoline-soaked crash scene while holding a cigarette.

Diane Crowley, sobbing and shaking as she spoke to the judge Wednesday, said she wondered whether she would have lived life differently had she known Landis would kill her child.

"Would I have spent more time with him? Would I have taught him and shared more with him? Shown more patience? Indulged him? Even spoiled him?" she asked.

She answered her questions, "Yes."

"Would I have loved him any more? No. I couldn't have."

The court stenographer dabbed at her eyes while typing the mother's words.

Landis logged his first DUI in 1981. With each that followed - in 1990, twice in 1997, once in 2002, 2005 and 2009 - he was given harsher penalties, court documents show. Each time, his license was suspended.

Landis drove regardless, and did not have a valid license the night of the 2013 crash, which took place about two years after he had finished serving his last DUI sentence.

He was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to homicide by vehicle while intoxicated, driving under a suspended license while intoxicated, and causing an accident involving death or injury without a valid license.

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan has used Landis' case to call for harsher mandatory minimum sentences for repeat DUI offenders who cause a crash that kills. The state's mandatory minimum for homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence is three to six years. Hogan has drafted legislation that would impose a seven-year mandatory minimum for each victim if the driver has been convicted of three previous DUIs.

Gaza spoke of the need for harsher laws Wednesday, but also said the judicial system failed to hold Landis accountable. Until he was sentenced for his seventh DUI in 2009 - a case also handled by Sarcione - Landis had not been given prison time.

Liam Crowley's father, Patrick, said his family struggled with whether to accept the plea agreement approved Wednesday, believing that it wasn't enough but knowing the limits of the courts.

The father said he planned to lobby for harsher legislation. None of that energy will go into feeling anger at Landis, because Landis doesn't deserve any effort, Patrick Crowley said.

"If it hadn't been my son," he said, "it would have been someone else."