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Willow Grove teen sentenced in fatal 'drifting' attempt

Fingers clenched before him, Colin Murphy haltingly described the anguish he said he had felt since killing an elderly pedestrian earlier this year during an attempt at a daredevil driving maneuver known as "drifting."

Fingers clenched before him, Colin Murphy haltingly described the anguish he said he had felt since killing an elderly pedestrian earlier this year during an attempt at a daredevil driving maneuver known as "drifting."

"I think about it every day," the 17-year-old said, his speech punctuated by sobs, as he addressed juvenile court in Montgomery County. "Driving reckless can change your life at any moment. I wish young drivers would realize that."

The aftermath of that October day's events - pulling his emergency brake at top speeds, losing control of his car, and striking 81-year-old Zita Egitto as she walked down a residential street in Upper Moreland Township - has been tough for the Willow Grove boy to process. On Monday, he began a multi-month sentence at a residential youth treatment facility after pleading guilty to charges of homicide by a vehicle.

But for enthusiasts of the risky drifting technique, Murphy's case is the latest in a long string of setbacks for a sport still seeking legitimacy in the racing world.

"It gives what we do a bad name," said Matt Petty, a promoter at a Monmouth County, N.J.-based series of drifting events called Club Loose. "It kind of opens your eyes to the fact that we're not doing a great job educating kids."

After first emerging as a popular racing maneuver in Japan, drifting has slowly developed into a competitive motor sport in its own right during the last 15 years. Achieved by pulling on the emergency brake while driving at top speeds and sharply turning the steering wheel, the maneuver is capable of sending cars into a sideways slide.

But until the release of the 2006 action movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, most outside the racing world were unfamiliar with the precarious practice and most inside gave it little respect.

The film - and its depictions of drivers skidding through parking garages and along Tokyo's busy streets - sent a whole new audience out of movie theater parking lots and onto public roads with tires screeching in their wake, Petty said.

"The movie brought a lot of money into our sport and upped the overall legitimacy," he said. "But at the same time, it inspired a lot of kids who didn't know what they were doing."

Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy took pains to emphasize the consequences of that ignorance at Murphy's sentencing hearing Monday. Demchick-Alloy ordered the teen to pay more than $10,000 in restitution along with serving a term at the George Junior Republic facility outside Pittsburgh, where he must complete a program that can take anywhere from months to years.

"This is not a movie," she chided the teen from the bench. "This is not Fast and Furious. This is not Tokyo Drift. You were behind the wheel of a dangerous weapon."

Murphy exhibited little awareness of that danger in the weeks before striking Egitto, witnesses testified Monday. He practiced drifting in busy parking lots during peak business hours. At one point, a friend riding with him warned that by "doing things like this, someone's going to get hurt," said Detective Robert Kerrigan of the Upper Moreland Township Police Department.

On Oct. 12, one day after that warning, Murphy's next drifting attempt ended in death.

Yanking back the emergency brake of his Volkswagen Passat while speeding along Old York Road, Murphy collided with Egitto, who was walking on the sidewalk to the home of a 95-year-old friend. The car whipped into her with such force that she was catapulted onto the porch of a nearby home.

She died of her injuries three days later.

"This was beyond devastating for all of us," said Frank Egitto, one of Zita Egitto's five adult sons. "The loss we feel is beyond words."

Incidents by untrained drivers and on public roads have led to fatal wrecks across the country, including a 2007 incident that killed four teens in Bristol, Conn.

Petty, the New Jersey drifting promoter, recalls his own early days drifting his car into ditches and embankments along roads trafficked by other drivers. He now hosts regular meet-ups for drifters at the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. - an alternative that allows drivers to practice in a controlled environment without endangering other motorists.

"It was stupid for us. We were naive," he said. "We didn't know any better."

For Murphy, that realization came too late.

"I never meant for anyone to be hurt," he said, shortly before being led from the courtroom. "I just wish this never happened."