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Probation For Cops in Death of 8-Year-Old Sharon Hill Girl

“This isn’t about blue lives or Black lives. This is about Fanta’s life. And her life did, in fact, matter.”

At the sentencing Friday, Judge Margaret Amoroso repeated those words by one of 8-year-old Fanta Bility’s relatives and three former Sharon Hill police officers. One of them fired the bullets that struck and killed the girl as she left a football game with her family on August 27, 2021.

There was standing room only in the courtroom with supporters of both the Bility family and the three former officers. Law enforcement officers stood along the courtroom walls.

The former officers had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of reckless endangerment. Amoroso sentenced them to five years probation, including 11 months of house arrest, wearing a monitor to start.

The officers—Devon Smith, Brian Devaney, and Sean Dolan—apologized profusely and offered their condolences to the Fanta Bility family.

Fanta Bility (CREDIT: Facebook)

Devaney could barely speak as he tearfully told the family, “No words can express how sorry I am for the loss of your baby girl, Fanta.”

Devaney, 43, was a police resource officer at Academy High School. He asked to work that night because he missed the kids while the school was closed because of COVID.

Smith said he had met Fanta at a playground while on patrol and several times after that.

“I am a father of three. I can’t imagine the pain and agony you feel every day,” said Smith.

Dolan had been a rookie and on the police force only 10 days before the shooting.

The incident began when a 16-year-old Sharon Hill boy and Hasein Strand, 18, of Collingdale, began shooting at each other near the Academy Park High School football field. With bullets flying, the officers mistakenly believed that shots had come from an oncoming car. The officers returned fire, and bullets flew into a crowd leaving the football game, striking four people, including Fanta, and grazing her sister.

Deputy District Attorney Doug Rhoads spoke on behalf of the Bility family about the “tragic unintended consequences” that took their daughter’s life. “A beautiful, young little girl full of life.” He said the family is still grieving, struggling with anger, sadness, and loss.

“Fanta’s brothers and sisters, all around them, are memories and the ghost of Fanta,” he said. “They have survivor’s guilt. Why did this happen? They wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been cheerleading that night.”

He told the siblings, “This wasn’t your fault. You didn’t cause this.”

“Everyone talks about accountability,” Rhoads said. “That is part of the justice process.”

Her father, Morris Bility, said Fanta was “sweet and kind.” She liked to ride her bike and go to the playground.

One of Fanta’s uncles died from gun violence in Philadelphia after Fanta’s death, causing Fanta’s grandmother to return to Liberia, where the family had fled to escape war and violence.

“They came here seeking safety, the American dream,” said Rhoads.

He said that Fanta’s mother, Tenneh Kromah, has been stoic and strong for her other children.

The family believes in forgiveness and has forgiven the officers.

“They want Fanta’s life and death to mean something,” said Rhoads. Fanta’s mother “has forgiveness in her heart for these three defendants. She, of course, will never forget.”

She held Fanta in her arms after the girl was wounded and yelled for help, he said.

Rhoads asked the judge to impose jail sentences on the former officers.

In handing down the sentences, Amoroso said she knew some people would think they were too lenient and some would think they were too harsh. She noted that the former officers did not have prior criminal records and posed no danger to society.

“This case is a tragedy,” she said. “If what I did today could give you back your child, I would do so.”

Outside the courthouse afterward, Abu Bility said, “We are very disappointed by this sentence by the judge .., nevertheless, we take some comfort in knowing the former officers are taking accountability for their actions. And our purpose now is to move forward so we can ensure this never happens to another child and family again.”

The incident should “serve as a wakeup call to local and state governments that municipal police need better training,” he said.

Morris Bility said the family appreciates people who have been supporting them. Pennsylvania and the United States of America need to train police better, he said.

Tenneh said, “I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who supports us.”

An older sister, Mawatta Bility, also spoke.

Fanta is “forever in our hearts. And she will be forever by our side … And I’d like to say we forgive the officers on behalf of our family,” she said.

District Attorney  Jack Stollsteimer said he was “honored and blessed” to get to know the Bility family.

“The people you see behind me are some of the best people I’ve met in my entire life,” he said. “Their faith has gotten them here today. Their forgiveness to the officers who took their daughter’s life. And all of you heard those officers who took responsibility for what they did, step up and offer their sincere and heartfelt apology for the tragic events of the night. And that’s what this was, a tragedy.”

Asked by a  reporter if he was upset that the judge did not sentence the officers to prison, Stollsteimer said, “The judge is the one who gets to make this decision …It is not my duty or my right to question that at this point. She has made her determination.”

Lawyer Bruce L. Castor Jr., who represents the family in a civil case, called them “a remarkable family.” He said the Delaware County DA’s office was very professional. “This was a very difficult case to sort out. These people never stopped. They went down the wrong lane. They backed up and went down the right lane. They really had their hearts in the right place.”

“In Delaware County, they do it right,” said Castor, the former Montgomery County DA. “I think we can say we are satisfied with the sentence…What everybody seems to understand is police officers need better training and better supervision. In the coming days and few weeks, we will be addressing that problem in the civil courts.”

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Parents of DUI Victim Hope Deana’s Law Will Protect Others

Deana Eckman, 45, was a wife, a daughter, and an animal lover when a man driving while under the influence crashed into her car on February 16, 2019. The impact killed her.

The head-on crash that claimed Eckman’s life was also David Strowhouer’s sixth drunk driving arrest. Previously, a judge had permitted his sentences to run concurrently for his prior convictions. That was why he was not in jail that night but traveling on a Delaware County road, careening across the yellow line in a borrowed pickup truck.

Now Deana’s name is on a Pennsylvania law requiring drunk drivers to serve consecutive sentences after their third conviction.

Her parents, Roseann and Richard DeRosa, joined Rep. Chris Quinn, (R-Media) at a press conference Friday to announce Gov. Tom Wolf had signed the bill into law. It takes effect in 120 days.

Deana DeRosa Eckman

Quinn’s legislation, Act 59 of 2022, also increases prison sentences for offenders. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/MontgomeryBerks).

“She was a vibrant young woman and beloved by a wide circle of family and friends,” said Quinn. “Her killer had a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit and he robbed Deana of decades of life.”

The legislation previously failed to pass, but Quinn shepherded it again through the legislative process and it was overwhelmingly approved by large bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate.

Quinn credited Sen. John Kane (D-Delaware/Chester) who, along with former Sen. Tom Killian, teamed up with Mensch to help guide the bill through the Senate. Quinn also thanked Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford) for his work on the bill. Williams is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“Seeing your daughter’s name on a piece of legislation is never a good sign,” said Richard DeRosa. “It means that something terrible has happened and, in our case, that’s certainly true. Deana’s Law will go a long way to correct some of the judicial errors that permitted David Strowhouer to be on the street to kill after five previous DUIs. We anticipate and sincerely hope that this law will save lives and prevent multitudes of injuries.”

“There are no words strong enough to describe the pain of outliving your child,” said Roseann DeRosa. “It’s an out-of-order process.  Deana’s death left a wound in our lives that will never fully heal. Deana’s tragic and senseless death was a result of a failure of our criminal justice system.

“Our passion for Deana’s Law is to prevent this from happening to other families,” she said. “And bring awareness to the many people who drive impaired. Every DUI is a potential homicide,” she added.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who also supported the push for Deanna’s Law, praised the DeRosas for trying “to turn their personal tragedy, that as a parent I can’t imagine what it feels like. They’re trying to turn that personal tragedy into something positive for other families. And they’ve done it by passing this law, thanks to Chris Quinn’s help and my good friend Sen. John Kane, who gave a really amazing speech on the Senate floor.

Stollsteimer noted that, in the era of ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, there is no excuse for driving while impaired. And certainly not multiple times.

“Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimate that 40 percent of DUI fatalities on our roads in America are caused by people with multiple DUI convictions,” said Stollsteimer. “They should never be allowed back on the road, and thanks for this legislation some of them will not be.”

Quinn also thanked the many stakeholders who participated in crafting Deana’s Law, including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, MADD, the Pennsylvania DUI Association, Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, and Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.

Strawhouer, 33, was convicted last year and sentenced to 24 to 51 years in prison for killing Eckman in the DUI homicide.

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