Monday, January 12, 2015
Police: Bensalem teen charged in pedestrian death failed to clear windshield
Posted: Friday, January 2, 2015
An 18-year-old Bensalem driver accused of striking and killing a Bensalem teen last month as she walked to her stopped school bus was driving a 30-year-old unregistered, uninsured truck with counterfeit inspection stickers that was in such poor condition that it would “fall apart” if driven beyond 60 mph, court documents state.
Michael Shelly was arraigned Friday before District Judge Leonard Brown on a long list of charges including homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and other offenses. Shelley was sent to Bucks County prison after Brown set his bail at 10 percent of $500,000, over the objections of defense attorney Stanton Lacks.
“Somebody is dead,” Brown replied. “Someone has to learn you don’t go through flashing lights at a bus stop.”
In court documents, Bensalem police blamed Shelly’s failure to clear his front windshield and rear windows before operating his 1984 Ford Bronco II as a contributing factor in the Dec. 17 accident that killed 16-year-old Minete Zeka. After the accident, Shelly told police that his vehicle defrosters were broken and he cleared only a small section of windshield to see out the front of the truck, according to a probable cause affidavit.
“I had basically tunnel vision because I only had a small area to see out of the front,” Shelly said, according to the affidavit. “My side windows were fogged up.”
Minete, a Bensalem High School sophomore, was one of five children crossing in a marked crosswalk on Bensalem Boulevard at Bridgewater Road when she was struck, Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran said at a press conference before the arraignment. No other children were injured.
Shelly stopped after hitting Minete, added police, who found him sitting on a curb near the accident and his damaged truck.
“I think I killed her,” Shelly said, according to the affidavit.
A subsequent investigation determined that the school bus was stopped in the southbound lane of Bensalem Boulevard just before the northernmost crosswalk with its red warning lights flashing and side STOP arm and yellow crossing arms were extended, according to court documents.
The school bus driver told police he activated the flashing lights 200 feet before stopping at the crosswalk at Bridgewater Road. The red flashing lights were activated for about 30 seconds before the driver heard the bang, police said.
Four high school students began to cross the road while one entered the bus from the right side of the road, the driver said, according to police. While that student was entering the bus, the driver saw another student jump in the crosswalk and he heard a bang and saw a coffee cup flying in the air, court documents said.
Shelly claimed he was driving to Bucks County Technical High School, which he attends, when the accident happened shortly after 6:30 a.m., according to police. His front windshield defrosters stopped working over the summer, so he cleaned off a 1-foot by 1-foot section of the windshield so he could see out of the front of the truck, the affidavit said.
As Shelly drove, he continued clearing off the condensation with a T-shirt, court documents show. He claimed that before the accident he last wiped the windshield at Route 13 and Bensalem Boulevard, about a half mile from the accident scene, court documents said.
After the accident, police noticed condensation to the point of obstructing the driver’s view had built up inside the Bronco, according to the affidavit.
As Shelly approached the intersection of Bensalem Boulevard and Bridgewater Road, he claimed he saw the school bus with yellow lights flashing, he said. He continued driving through the intersection and saw the red lights on the bus as the accident happened, hitting his brakes when he saw a kid run across the front of his truck, he said.
The posted speed limit on that part of Bensalem Boulevard is 40 mph. Crossing guards don’t arrive at the intersection until 7 a.m., police said, because they aren’t usually on duty for high school students.
A registered nurse performed cardio pulmonary resuscitation on the injured girl at the scene before she was transported to Aria Health Torresdale campus in Philadelphia, where she was pronounced dead, court documents said.
At the news conference announcing the arrest, Harran repeatedly refused to discuss the condition of Shelly's vehicle or if it was properly registered calling it a matter for trial.
But court documents state that in addition to the broken defrosters the truck had other problems including a broken speedometer and a clogged heater port. The truck also has oversized tires that slide in the rain and the license plate belongs to a Grand Prix owned by Shelly, police said.
Among the criminal charges that Shelly faces are summary offenses for driving an unregistered vehicle, displaying a fictitious inspection sticker and operating a vehicle without insurance.
Neither drugs nor alcohol appear to be an issue in the accident, Harran said, but he declined to comment on whether distracted driving was a factor. Harran also stated there is no problem with the infrastructure of Bensalem Boulevard.
“Any road is a problem when the driver isn’t paying attention,” Harran added. “This could have been avoided.”
Following the arraignment, Lacks said he'll seek a bail reduction before Bucks County Court, stating that Shelly has no prior criminal record and attends high school in Bristol Township. He added that his client “feels terrible about the whole situation.”
Friends of Shelly who attended the arraignment declined comment afterward.
If convicted of vehicular manslaughter, Shelly faces a potential seven-year maximum sentence in state prison; involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The accident scene is roughly one mile from where 17-year-old Ryan Viola was struck and killed while crossing Bensalem Boulevard at Portside Drive in a crosswalk to get to his school bus stop in November 2012. The driver in that accident wasn’t criminally charged with Ryan’s death because she had the green light.
In October, Viola’s parents filed a federal wrongful death suit, alleging a faulty traffic signal, the lack of a school crossing guard and the location of the bus stop all contributed to the teen’s death. The suit is still working its way through the system.