Monday, June 2, 2014
DUI-related assault charge dropped in Bensalem hit-and-run
Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
A Bensalem district judge has dismissed an aggravated assault while DUI charge against a 26-year-old Philadelphia man, after the prosecution’s expert witnesses testified that he was not certain the man’s impairment was responsible for the hit-and-run. The accident seriously injured a 14-year-old boy.
Judge Leonard Brown on Monday held George Colbert for trial in Bucks County court on all other charges including aggravated assault by vehicle, accidents involving death or personal injury, driving under the influence, and related charges including a half-dozen traffic citations. Colbert is free after posting 10 percent of his $30,000 bail.
Prosecutor A.J. Garabedian argued that blood tests taken after the Feb. 14 accident in the 2000 block of Street Road proved that Colbert had marijuana in his system at a level that would have impaired his driving.
Bensalem police allege that Colbert was driving his 2004 Toyota Corolla east in the right lane of Street Road near the Bensalem Plaza shopping center when he entered the road shoulder, drove into a 5-foot high snow bank and struck a 14-year-old boy walking on the shoulder with two friends. The teen suffered a broken pelvis and collarbone and a fractured tailbone, police said.
Witness Lewis Lake testified Monday that he was driving behind Colbert’s Toyota the day of the accident and saw him weaving within his lane before he drove into the snow bank. Lake said he thought the Toyota was going to flip over, but the driver managed to regain control of the car and stop on the shoulder.
The Toyota’s driver got out and looked around his car for about two minutes, before getting back inside and driving away, Lake said.
Lake testified that he didn’t notice the Toyota had hit a person until he got closer to the accident scene.
"I saw a sneaker in the street. I thought that was odd,” he said. Then Lake saw the injured boy lying in the road.
Lake testified that he followed the Toyota as it drove east on Street Road for about a quarter mile, until it drove into a business where Lake used his three-quarter ton work pickup to block the Toyota.
Bensalem detectives Brian Oliverio and John Monaghan each testified that the accident reports did not indicate that officers at the accident scene immediately suspected that Colbert had consumed drugs or alcohol before the accidents. Both detectives testified that Colbert showed no obvious signs of impairment including difficulty walking, speaking or glassy, bloodshot eyes within about 20 minutes after the accident.
Colbert’s defense attorney, Michael Parlow, said that his client was on his way to pick up a coworker when the accident happened. He suggested the accident happened after Colbert looked down at the address his boss had given him for the coworker’s house.
After the accident, Colbert submitted to blood tests that revealed the active ingredient in marijuana in his system at the time of the accident at levels that rendered him incapable of driving safely, according to Dr. Thomas Brettell, director of the Bucks County Crime Lab.
Brettell, who is also a chemistry professor, testified that based on the amount of active ingredient in Colbert’s blood, he estimated that he had smoked marijuana roughly five hours before the blood was tested, which would have been roughly 9:50 a.m. The accident occurred shortly after 11 a.m.
“He’d be showing impairment at the time of the incident,” Brettell said, adding that it’s recommended that people who smoke marijuana not drive for eight hours afterward because of its effects on the reflexes, short term memory and reaction time.
But under cross examination, Brettell testified that he could not say with certainty if Colbert’s level of impairment was the cause of the accident, testimony that Parlow used to argue that the aggravated assault while DUI charge should be dropped.
While it is illegal to drive under the influence of any illegal drug, an aggravated assault by vehicle with DUI or homicide by vehicle while DUI charge requires the prosecution show the driver’s impairment was the primary factor for the accident, under state law.
“Where is the evidence from the Commonwealth the DUI caused the accident?” Parlow said.
Prosecutor A.J. Garabedian countered that Brettell’s testimony did confirm that based on the level of active ingredient in Colbert’s blood it could have been a cause of the accident, which is all the prosecution has to prove at the preliminary hearing level.
“He would be impaired when driving,” Garabedian added. “He said, at that time, he’d be impaired.”
But Brown had the last word. The judge pointed out that Brettell’s testimony could not say with certainty that Colbert’s impairment caused the accident.