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Erie County judge dismisses teen's vehicular homicide charges

A 13-year-old girl died as she waited to board an Erie County school bus late last year. The teenager was struck on Route 97 in Summit Township. The fatal car accident also injured another Fort LeBoeuf School District student. The driver was a 19-year-old male on his way to work.

Police charged the teen with felony vehicular homicide, misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and endangerment and assault. An Erie County judge dismissed all but two small traffic citations, saying the prosecutor had failed to prove the driver's actions equaled a crime.

The judge acknowledged the tragedy of the girl's death. The judge also noted that the driver's fleeting inattentiveness was not the same as a conscious disregard of risks to harm others. According to police and witnesses, the driver was traveling up to 18 mph below the speed limit on a dark winter morning. The judge said the teen was careless and failed to approach the school bus cautiously as it flashed amber warning lights.

Accident reports say the school bus was southbound, approaching a stop in front of a mobile home park. Several students, including the accident victims, walked into the road seconds before the bus stopped. The accused driver was heading the opposite direction, toward the bus.

Some of the bus riders noticed the oncoming car and stepped off the road. The girl who was killed and the boy who was injured did not move. The car driver hit the brakes, slid more than 30 feet and struck the students.

Evidence showed that the driver was momentarily inattentive. The accident victims had apparently jaywalked by crossing the road at an inappropriate time. The judge ruled that the driver could not have anticipated encountering children in the road at the exact moment of the crash.

Prosecutors are planning an appeal that intends to show the driver was driving recklessly because he was negligent.

A criminal action or conviction is not a necessary precursor to a civil trial. Victims or their families who have been wronged by negligence can file to recover just compensation. Compensation can help offset expensive medical treatments for victims, as well as any funeral expenses stemming from a fatal accident such as this one.

Source: goerie.com, "Erie judge tosses homicide charge in fatality at school bus stop," Lisa Thompson, June 6, 2012

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