Craig Lewis
Craig Lewis

War veteran and York County prison guard David Whitcomb Jr. returned home in one piece after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wasn't until he was back in the York area -- his comfort zone, he called it -- that he was shot and nearly died.

"It scared me more than anything I ever experienced (overseas)," Whitcomb said in court during Monday's sentencing of Craig A. Lewis. "It changed my life forever."

Lewis, 23, of Chestnut Street in York City, was sentenced to 7-1/2 to 15 years in state prison for the Jan. 21, 2012, shooting outside Piazza Romana at 2350 N. George St. in Manchester Township.

Both men had been out with friends at the restaurant/bar that night.

PTSD: Whitcomb told the judge he now suffers from nightmares, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. When he sees Lewis, he said, he feels sick and his heart races.

"I live in mental anguish, with a 9-inch scar on my stomach and a bullet in my hip," he said.

Deputy prosecutor Dave Mueller has said Whitcomb nearly died from his wound.

Whitcomb's girlfriend, Rachael Waclawski, also spoke about how the shooting has affected Whitcomb.

"He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night," she told presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner.

Bortner called it ironic that Whitcomb survived his service to this country in two war-torn countries, only to be seriously injured by gunfire after returning home.

"It's a sad commentary," the judge said.

The shooting: Whitcomb previously testified he was outside Piazza Romana, playing peacemaker by speaking with someone who had pushed his brother, when he saw Lewis approach him from behind.

"I was hit upside the head," he previously testified.

He said he turned around and grabbed Lewis, trying to take him to the ground.

Whitcomb's brother previously testified he saw Lewis pull out a small handgun and point it. That's when he heard two gunshots, he said.

Lewis insists he's innocent and maintains he didn't recognize Whitcomb as being a prison corrections officer, despite the fact Lewis was previously housed in the block where Whitcomb worked.

Mueller said he doubts that claim.

"We believed all along he knew Mr. Whitcomb from the prison," the prosecutor said, but didn't have the evidence to prove it.

Vicious cycle: Lewis' mother, Sandra Tota, initially chose not to speak on her son's behalf, but changed her mind just as Judge Bortner was preparing to hand down Lewis' punishment.

"My son lived his whole life without his father. He was in prison," Tota said. "Don't sentence (Lewis') sons to the same thing he had to live with his whole life."

Lewis also spoke.

"I'm sorry that happened ... but I wasn't the one who pulled the trigger," he said. "The only thing I was guilty of was fighting."

Fellow soldier: Whitcomb's friend, Andrew Clayton, drove up from his home in the Washington D.C. area for Monday's hearing.

"I fought alongside Dave in two wars," he said, adding Whitcomb's "positive outlook nurtured my faith in mankind."

Whitcomb is loyal, lighthearted and peaceful, Clayton told the judge.

"It was even hard for the enemy to hate Dave," he said.

Defense attorney Bill Graff said Lewis intends to appeal his conviction.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.