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Saturday, February 21, 2015
Bensalem teen held for trial in school bus stop death
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2015
The morning that he allegedly struck and killed a 16-year-old girl, Michael Shelly wasn’t driving his usual Pontiac Grand Prix. The car’s transmission wasn’t working, so he took a 1984 Ford Bronco that he rarely drove because he knew it was in bad condition, a Bensalem detective testified Thursday.
Michael Shelly (left) and Lou Busico
The 18-year-old Bensalem man admitted that the heater and window defrosters hadn’t worked for the 18 months he owned the SUV, according to Detective John Monaghan, who appeared at a preliminary hearing for Shelly, who is charged with the Dec. 17 death of Minete Zeka.
Bensalem police blame Shelly’s failure to fully clear condensation from his front windshield and rear windows before getting behind the wheel as a contributing factor in the fatal accident. Police allege that Shelly knew the SUV was unsafe to drive but Shelly’s defense attorney says the accident was a tragic mistake.
Bensalem school bus driver Thomas Kuehn testified that he was driving east on Bensalem Boulevard when he put his yellow warning lights on 200 feet prior to the bus stop at Bridgewater Road and Bensalem Boulevard, where he would pick up five students.
Kuehn recalled seeing headlights in the opposite direction on Bensalem Boulevard about 100 yards away when he switched on his red flashing lights. Police allege those headlights belonged to the Bronco.
Minete, a Bensalem High School sophomore, was crossing the road behind another student when she was struck. She later died of blunt force trauma related to injuries as a result. The four other students were not injured.
Shelly stopped after hitting Minete. Bensalem police Officer Jenifer Pettine testified that when she arrived at the scene she found him sitting on a curb near the accident with his head in his hands, visibly, extremely upset.
“I think I killed her,” Pettine testified she heard Shelly say.
Shelly said that he was driving to Bucks County Technical High School in Bristol Township and, as he entered the intersection, saw the yellow lights on the school bus had turned red and heard a loud bang, Pettine recalled.
A subsequent police investigation determined that the school bus was stopped with its red warning lights flashing and side STOP arm and yellow crossing arms extended, according to court documents.
Police also allege that condensation on the Bronco’s windows had built up to the point of obstructing the driver’s view. Shelly reportedly told police he was using a T-shirt to clear a small portion of the window to see.
Monaghan testified that Shelly, who is studying automotive technology, claimed he saw the yellow warning lights, but didn’t notice the red lights until he saw someone cross the street in front of his SUV. Shelly told him that he didn’t see Minete until after he struck her, the detective added.
Bensalem Detective Brian Oliverio testified that when he participated in the inspection of the SUV, which is registered to Shelly’s father, a couple of days after the accident, he found multiple violations beyond the broken defroster system.
The rear taillights were painted black, the rearview mirror was missing, the horn didn’t work and there was no exhaust system, Oliverio said. The license plate also was registered to another car, the Grand Prix.
Oliverio also testified that he believed the inspection and emission stickers on the Bronco were counterfeit.
But on cross examination, Oliverio acknowledged that when he test-drove the car he found no problems with its steering, suspension, brakes, tires or headlights. An accident reconstruction also determined that the Bronco was not speeding at the time of the accident.
Following testimony from five witnesses, District Judge Leonard Brown held Shelly for trial on all charges, including homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and other offenses. He is free after posting 10 percent of his $250,000 bail.
After the hearing, Shelly’s defense attorney, Louis Busico, called the case an all-around tragedy.
“This is a really sad case for everybody concerned,” Busico said. “There was no ill will, no bad intent on behalf of Mr. Shelly that morning. He was simply an 18-year-old man going to school.”