Prison for driver who fatally ran over 4-year-old Hanover girl and fled scene
The man who killed 4-year-old Dakota Wright in a 2016 Hanover hit-and-run had no reaction to the emotional words of her parents during his sentencing hearing.
Tony Shower Jr. appeared in York County Court on Friday, Jan. 3, to be sentenced on the crimes of accidents involving death or personal injury/hit and run and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
Jurors found him guilty Nov. 22, the third anniversary of Dakota's death.
At the urging of first assistant district attorney Tim Barker, presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner sentenced Shower, 35, of Hanover, to a total of six to 15 years in state prison.
Barker noted that Shower in the past has violated his probation, showed "inadequate or poor" participation in the county's veterans treatment court and twice received write-ups for misconduct in York County Prison. He even showed up to a treatment court graduation while intoxicated, Barker said.
Shower — who maintains his innocence — has an extensive criminal history coupled with "a pattern of selfishness, a pattern of failure to conform his conduct" to societal standards, Barker told the judge, adding that rehabilitation on Shower's part doesn't seem to be likely.
Public defender Eric Wayne White said his client was abused as a child, then abused drugs and alcohol both during and after his military service.
Grieving family: Ginger Wright spoke in court, describing her daughter as "the most amazing smart little girl" who will never get to attend school, or graduate or have her first kiss. She was spunky and a ray of sunshine, her mother said.
"All she ever wanted was to go to school," Ginger Wright said. "Dakota had great potential."
Dakota would regularly ask her parents and older siblings, "How many more sleeps until school?" with sleeps meaning nights, according to one of her sisters, Natalie Meckley.
"Dakota had a twinkle in her eyes that was always there," Meckley told the judge. "Her personality was as bright as the sun. ... She never got the opportunity to dream of her future."
"There's not a day goes by that I don't think of Dakota," her father, Josh Wright, said in court.
He told Judge Bortner that Dakota was fun-loving, intelligent and loved animals — and not just furry, cuddly ones. She was a fan of snakes and spiders too, he said.
'No remorse': Shower took "everything she would have been" and has shown no remorse for it, Josh Wright said — a sentiment shared by Ginger Wright.
Shower "ran like a coward for two years" after the crash and until police arrested him, Josh Wright said, and therefore deserved the maximum possible sentence.
Shower spoke in court as well, insisting that "I have a lot of remorse."
He then spoke at length about himself and his struggles.
"I still don't know what it is to be a productive member of society," Shower told Bortner.
The background: The hit-and-run charge is a second-degree felony that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three to six years in state prison and a maximum of five to 10 years, Barker has said.
Dakota, who lived in the 200 block of Princess Street in Hanover, had arrived home with Meckley at 7:09 p.m. Nov. 22, 2016, when she was fatally struck by a hit-and-run van in the road, trial testimony revealed.
The van, which was going about 22 mph, never slowed before hitting her and didn't slow afterward, according to Barker.
Prosecutors' trial evidence included the fact that DNA from blond hairs embedded in the headlight assembly of a white utility van matched the maternal DNA lineage of Dakota's family and that the zipper pull on her My Little Pony jacket scratched the van's bumper.
Barker also maintains that evidence shows Dakota's jacket left a clothing transfer on one of the van's tie rods.
Smoked crack all day: The van was owned by a friend of Shower's, Stephen Gambal III, who testified he and Shower had been driving around all day prior to the hit-and-run, smoking crack cocaine. Shower also did heroin, Gambal told jurors.
Gambal testified that about 7 p.m., he waited in the parking lot of a local bar while Shower drove Gambal's van to go buy more drugs. When Shower returned about 20 minutes later, he told Gambal to take over driving again, according to Gambal.
Officers from two different police departments separately pulled over the van, since 911 had broadcast a description of it. The first officers ended up letting the van go because Gambal appeared sober and, in the dark, officers were unable to see any damage related to the hit-and-run, according to testimony.
The second time the van was pulled over, Gambal was alone in the van. By that time, he had dropped off Shower and had smoked more crack cocaine, he testified.
West Manheim Township Police arrested Gambal on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and impounded the van. When it was examined in a lighted garage, the blond hairs and damage were found, testimony revealed.
Blames buddy: Shower didn't take the stand at trial, but he gave three separate interviews to police in which he eventually admitted that he and Gambal had been smoking crack all day.
After initially denying any knowledge of the hit-and-run, Shower claimed he was sleeping in the passenger seat of the van when he felt or heard a thud, and that Gambal said, "I think I just hit a kid," according to police testimony. Shower told investigators he fell back asleep after hearing that.
A neighbor of Dakota's also heard the thud and watched the van drive past, according to testimony.
He told police he was sure the driver was the only person in the van and gave a description of the driver that sounded nothing like Gambal but was a good description of Shower.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.