BATH | A Campbell man charged in the April 2013 death of Rexford Cleveland pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree vehicular manslaughter.
Cory R. Haight, 36, faces 2 1/3 to seven years in state prison when he's sentenced.
Haight was indicted in October on reckless manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter charges – the reckless manslaughter charge was dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
Prosecutors say Haight was driving under the influence of cocaine when he crossed the center line on Meads Creek Road in Painted Post and collided with a vehicle driven by Cleveland, 75, of East Campbell.
A member of Cleveland's family told The Leader on Tuesday he believes police and prosecutors mishandled the case, and that there was little will from Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker to bring Haight to justice.
Friday, Baker said the seemingly slow process of bringing charges and getting to this point was because of the particulars of this case, not because he wasn't interested in prosecuting Haight.
"Functionally, this was a difficult case," he said.
Baker said the investigation was hampered in part because both men were seriously injured after the collision and were airlifted to Robert Packer Hospital, in Sayre, Pa.
"The priority of the first responders was helping people," he said, rather than preserving evidence for an investigation.
When Cleveland died from an infection related to his injuries three weeks later, the homicide investigation had to be conducted through intermediaries in Pennsylvania.
"We had to enlist to cooperation of the Bradford County District Attorney's Office, we had to utilize law enforcement in Pennsylvania to get information, we had to have subpoenas and search warrants done by them," Baker said. "We didn't have the control that we usually do over an investigation."
He said establishing for the grand jury that Cleveland's death from infection was caused by the collision was a complex process involving expert testimony.
Baker said the deal for the guilty plea on the lesser charge was only offered because he believed it was similar to the result they would have gotten if the case had gone to a jury.
"It's not the top charge in the indictment," he said, "but it's what the evidence will support."
He said he and other prosecutors are bound by the laws of the state and the sentencing guidelines created by the Legislature.
"The reality is, for the family, there will never be justice," he said. "It's never going to be enough. Nothing we can do will ever bring back their loved one."
Haight also faces another charge still pending in a separate case.
In July 2013, he was charged with third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, a felony, in connection with the August 2012 death of Melissa A. Sherry, 28, of Hammondsport.
Police said Haight provided Sherry with bath salts, which contributed to her death, which was officially ruled accidental.
Sherry was reported missing Aug. 26, 2012. Her body was found five days later in a field off Manning Ridge Road in Campbell.