The presentation of witnesses and reports from a defense attorney led to the dismissal of the DUI portion of a homicide by vehicle charge, but a 23-year-old Landisburg man is still heading to Cumberland County Court for the death of a Landisburg woman.
Kevin C. Miller was initially charged with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and DUI controlled substance after a rollover crash that occurred on Sunnyside Drive in Middlesex Township on Oct. 14. The crash resulted in the death of Ashtyn Rideout, 23, of Landisburg, who was partially ejected from the vehicle.
Magisterial District Judge Susan Day heard testimony Wednesday from Middlesex Township police as well as from a forensic toxicology expert. Prosecution focused on the state of the crash, while defense argued the need for either the DUI component or the homicide by vehicle charge.
Sgt. James Patterson of the Middlesex Township Police Department testified first during the preliminary hearing Wednesday and said he was called to the scene and when he arrived, he found a man “knelt next to a woman who was partially trapped in a car,” he said. On cross examination, Patterson said Miller was holding Rideout’s hand at the time.
Patterson testified that no hazards were noticed on the road, and the crash was reported to police by a passer-by. Police initially reported that the vehicle went off the side of the road, where it struck a large rock and sideswiped a utility pole before rolling onto the driver side and eventually the roof.
He testified that Miller had told him he was driving the vehicle and was taking prescription medication, which Patterson said Miller had told him belonged to the Rideout.
Through defense witnesses and blood work, Miller’s attorney John Abom of Abom & Kutulakis, Carlisle, argued that the only medications found in Miller’s system were prescribed to him.
Prosecution introduced evidence in the form of the medical results of the blood test, which showed there was no alcohol present in his blood, but there were amounts THC and a generic form of Zoloft found.
Miller’s mother testified that Miller was been prescribed a generic Zoloft, which was the only prescription medication identified in the blood work.
Dr. Lawrence Guzzardi, an expert witness in forensic toxicology, also testified for the defense and is an expert in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, such as Zoloft. He said the amount found in Miller’s blood work is well within therapeutic levels and would have no affect on driving.
Guzzardi also pointed out that the Delta-9 Carboxy THC found in Miller’s blood meant that Miller had smoked marijuana, but he was not under the influence of the substance. Guzzardi said Delta-9 Carboxy THC is the inactive metabolite of marijuana, which stays in the body for some time, but is not an active component and would not affect driving.
“It is a marker that someone used marijuana,” he said. “There is absolutely no evidence that marijuana had any effect on the driving ability of Mr. Kevin Miller. At some point, he had smoked, but was not under the influence at the time.”
“The test reflects that at some point he used marijuana, but was not under the influence at the time,” Abom said. “This was a very tragic, sad accident, but not every accident when someone is killed justifies criminal charges.”
When asked if Miller showed any signs of intoxication, Patterson said he had.
“I noticed when I watched him walk, there was a swagger to his walk, and when he stood in place, he swayed,” he said. “He said she had been drinking, and he was the designated driver.”
Patterson said a light odor of alcohol prompted him to initiate a preliminary breath test, which resulted in a negative reading for alcohol.
Miller was not arrested, but was taken to Carlisle Regional Medical Center for a blood test.
Rideout was taken by ambulance to CRMC, where she was later pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed blunt force trauma as the cause and manner of death. The autopsy also revealed that Rideout had taken prescription medication but had not taken the same medication as Miller.
An amended charge of homicide by vehicle, which does not have the DUI component attached, was added to the complaint during the hearing, and the initial homicide by vehicle while DUI charge was dismissed due to lack of evidence showing the intoxication level caused the crash.
Abom attempted to argue against the homicide by vehicle charge, saying that no evidence had been offered to prove that Miller had violated any traffic laws, causing the crash.
“One moment of inattentiveness and you’re hit, which causes an accident. There was no evidence of speeding, of weaving, any traffic violations,” he said, “This is an accident, not a crime.”
Daniel J. Sodus, senior assistant district attorney, argued that the added homicide by vehicle charge had been proven, as the crash itself showed a recklessness.
“It is not a far stretch of the imagination at all that a moment of inattentiveness caused this crash,” he said. “Many drivers are inattentive, use cellphones and such, that by itself does not cause you to flip your vehicle.”
The homicide by vehicle charge was bound over for Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. A formal arraignment has been scheduled for 9 a.m. June 20.