Richland woman gets up to 24 years for wrong-way killing in Hilltown

Noelle Chew can serve up to 24 years in state prison for a wrong-way DUI crash on Route 309 that killed an Allentown man on his way home from work.

Saying he chooses to hope convicted DUI-killer Noelle Theresa Chew can rehabilitate herself in state prison, a Bucks County judge has ordered the woman to serve 6 ½ to 24 years behind bars.

Chew, 27, of Richland, was sentenced Thursday in county court for the Jan. 21, 2017, head-on crash that killed 24-year-old Allentown man Damian Toalombo. A jury convicted the woman last year of third-degree murder, DUI homicide and related counts after a trial before Judge Gary B. Gilman.

Prosecutors said before the crash Chew ignored multiple warnings against driving after drinking with friends in Quakertown and Sellersville. She was driving the wrong way on Route 309 in Hilltown when her vehicle collided with Toalombo’s. The man was driving home from work.

Gilman said Chew’s decision to drive drunk constituted “willful misconduct” as well as a “profound lack of respect and empathy.” He noted that drunk driving claimed more than 40 lives last year in Bucks County.

“When are we going to learn? I don’t get it,” the judge said. “We’re not doing enough to take care of this problem.”

The woman’s sentence, which Gilman said also was fashioned with consideration for the “chaos” present in Chew’s upbringing, is slightly higher than the 72-month minimum sentence recommended in the standard range of state guidelines.

“She didn’t earn that sentence,” Deputy District Attorney Robert James said after the hearing.

“She has been shown at every point in her adult life not to conform with the norms of society,” he said.

James said he began pursuing murder convictions in applicable DUI homicide cases because the sentences were “a slap in the face” to victims’ families, and noted that similar convictions have netted much stiffer penalties.

Chew’s attorney Michael Diamondstein, who argued that his client’s history of mental illness should serve to mitigate her sentence, called the penalty “extremely fair.”

“It was clear that Judge Gilman spent a lot of time and agonized over what was right in this case,” he said.

Witnesses who knew Toalombo painted the man in their testimony as a loving, caring and generous friend, nephew and son. Before his death, multiple witnesses said, he studied criminal justice and hoped to become a state trooper.

Instead, the man’s life was cut short.

“My son died alone,” said his mother Jacqueline Scarr. “Every day, I wonder if in that instant he saw and understood what was about to happen to him. And if he did, how much did he suffer?”

The woman’s testimony brought many in the crowded Doylestown Borough courtroom to tears, including Chew, people attending to support her and courthouse employees.

Scarr said people sometimes ask if she hates Chew, to which she replies that she wish she could.

“But because of the kind and thoughtful person my son was, I can imagine him saying, ‘Mom, you don’t know what she went through that made her that way,’” she said. “So no. I don’t hate Noelle.”

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