It won't bring her back or repair the permanent hole in her parents' hearts, but the man responsible for Emily Cella's death, 18 months ago in a horrendous crash, was sentenced last week to four years in prison.
HE IS trucker Dale Leon Kreider, 34, of Akron, Pa., and he was sentenced last Monday, Feb. 7, in Stafford County Circuit Court for involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving. Yet, he'll one day go free and continue with his life. Emily, a 2001 Centreville High grad, is gone forever.
"She was loved by everybody who knew her, and we miss her terribly," said her father, Joe Cella, of the Rocky Run community. "Every time we have a family gathering, I think she should be here," said her mother Terri. "Each time the phone rings, I think that should be Emily."
At Centreville, Emily excelled in writing and photography and was a member of the National Honor Society. On Aug. 6, 2003, she was 19 and home visiting her family in Centreville, as well as a close friend. Studying sociology at Mary Washington College, she was about to begin her junior year and was driving back there, that night.
But because of Kreider's negligent driving, she never made it. Instead, she died on I-95 in the wee hours of Aug. 7 when Kreider rammed his tractor-trailer into the back of her Toyota Echo.
"It was just terrible," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney George Elsasser. Not only did Kreider hit Cella's car, he ran over it. Between the weight of the tractor-trailer and its load, said Elsasser, an estimated "70,000 pounds of mass was directing itself right onto that small Toyota."
Kreider was traveling from Pennsylvania to Richmond with a load of ice cream products in his refrigerated truck, and he wasn't due in until 8 a.m. Things were fine until 2 a.m., when traffic on I-95 South near Fredericksburg came to a near standstill because of construction.
Three lanes were blocked, and vehicles were going 5-10 mph. Cella's Toyota was the last in a row of slowed cars when the 18-wheeler smashed into it. Kreider then plowed into a tow truck and a pickup truck with a trailer.
TESTIFYING during Kreider's June 2004 jury trial was Eric Schneider of Fredericksburg. He'd gotten onto I-95 South at the Stafford exit, just before the crash site. As he entered the interstate, he said, Kreider's tractor-trailer "blew by me as if I were standing still."
Schneider drove behind him, "going 75 mph-plus," trailing by a quarter-mile, right up to the accident scene. He saw Kreider's truck pull into the right lane, hit the guardrail and bounce off into the first truck. He also saw Kreider's rig drive over Cella's car.
In addition, several witnesses testified that warning signs — for at least three miles prior to the accident site — told drivers a work zone was ahead and the two left lanes were blocked. But Kreider didn't heed them.
The jury convicted him on June 9 and recommended he serve 3 1/2 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and six months for reckless driving. Last week, Judge J.W. Haley Jr. imposed that recommendation, running the sentences consecutively.
During the penalty phase of Kreider's trial, Emily's parents told of the unspeakable grief he'd caused them. Describing her daughter as a compassionate, caring person, Terri Cella said she missed her hugs and laughter.
"I will never be able to see her graduate from college, or marry or have children," she said. "And I'll never be able to hear her say, 'I love you,' again." Added Joe Cella: "The fact that our youngest daughter is dead — and the manner in which she died — is with me constantly."
The Cellas have established a scholarship in Emily's name. Contributions payable to Mary Washington Foundation may be sent to: Mary Washington College, Attn: Nina Thompson, director of development, P.O. Box 1908, Fredericksburg, VA 22402. Write "Emily Cella, account No. 4-9416," on the message line.