BLOOMSBURG, Pa. - Calling it "a boorish, brazen, savage intrusion," Columbia County Court Judge Gary E. Norton sentenced Angel Cruz to 22 to 36 months in prison Monday for the Feb. 23 punch that devastated Jackie Lithgow's life.
Cruz, 22, was one of four Kutztown University football players who crashed a fraternity party at Bloomsburg University, starting a fight when they refused to leave. When Lithgow, then 18, a Bloomsburg freshman, tried to make peace, Cruz hit Lithgow, who fell back, his head hitting the pavement, and sustained severe brain injury.
Lithgow, whose story The Inquirer chronicled on Thanksgiving, spent nine months in three hospitals before finally going home to Carlisle three weeks ago. After the injury, he could not speak, eat, swallow, stand, or sit. Twice the top of his skull was removed because of brain swelling - once because of the injury, a second time because of infection. He has come a long way, but still cannot walk, stand, use the left side of his body, or say more than a few words at a time.
Cruz, once a star high school running back in Berks County, was led into court in handcuffs and leg shackles, and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He has been in Columbia County Prison since his arrest days after the fight.
Before sentencing, he said: "Every day I wish I could take away what happened that night. . . . I am sorry for Jackie, his mother and father, his sister. Nobody needs to feel sorry for me because I understand what I have lost is nothing compared to what Jackie has lost. I accept what I did was wrong."
He was sentenced to 22 to 36 months - the maximum allowed - and given credit for nine months served. He was also ordered to pay $3,100 in fines and $23,354 for Lithgow's family's out-of-pocket medical expenses. He pleaded guilty Nov. 10 to simple assault, fleeing the scene of a crime and two counts of harassment.
His attorney, Raymond Kessler, told the court he had never had a client more remorseful. He also said Cruz had suicidal thoughts after realizing what he had done and spent time in a mental hospital.
Lisa Lithgow, Jackie's mother, came to court surrounded by 14 relatives. It was her first time away from her son since his injury. She said before the hearing that she was unsure she could look at Cruz. Her sister, Melodie Bedford, read a statement to the judge before sentencing on behalf of Lisa Lithgow and her husband, Jim, who had stayed home to care for their son.
The statement summarized the son's losses and the future that had been stolen from him, and concluded by asking the judge: "What punishment do you give for taking that away?"
"I get it," Norton said, looking at the family. "We do our best within the constraints of the law. My apologies. There's nothing that we can do to help, to really help. I wish the family the best."
Then Norton looked at Cruz. "At the end of Saving Private Ryan," he said, "the captain looks up at Pvt. Ryan and says, 'Earn it.' It's up to you. In the end, let's see what you can do with your life."