The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 27, 2013

Cop: Dad said he was behind wheel

EBENSBURG — In the moments following the fatal Route 271 crash that claimed his son’s life, Brian J. Roles Sr. stood visibly drunk along the roadside and then told police he was behind the wheel when the crash occurred, a patrolman testified Tuesday.

East Taylor Township police Officer Shaun Gregory’s testimony was part of a day of trial where a fellow patrolman said the 38-year-old Roles asked, “Did I kill my son?” while being taken for a blood test and the Conemaugh Valley teen’s mother took the stand in tears, saying she waited all evening for her son to join her for Easter dinner – and instead learned he’d been killed.

“He brought me flowers. He said he’d return,” Gretchen Roles said of her son, Brian Jr., 16.

Tuesday was the second day of trial for Brian Roles Sr., who is charged with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, among other charges.

Prosecutors, who say Roles crashed his pickup truck while heading north on Route 271 that night, called on police officers, Chief Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Lees, the teen’s mother and lab technicians at Memorial Medical Center to recount what happened after the crash.

Gregory said he arrived to find the 16-year-old’s lifeless body on the roadway and a damaged pickup truck nearby.

A beer can was spotted on the ground, and at the roadway, Brian Sr. stood glassy-eyed “with alcohol on his breath,” Gregory testified.

He said Roles told him he was behind the wheel when another car veered into his path, causing him to lose control of the truck, which struck a utility pole.

Roles’ defense attorneys – who have suggested the man was under serious stress from the crash and his son’s death in the moments following – asked why a written statement was not sought by investigating officers.

East Conemaugh police Officer Joseph Marsh said he transported a visibly upset Roles to Memorial Medical Center a short time later.

“He was crying,” Marsh said. “He kept repeating the same thing. ‘Is my son dead? Did I kill my son?’ ” 

Roles was tested for drugs and alcohol, and lab results have shown he was legally intoxicated and had painkillers and depression medication in his system that night.

Defense attorneys Ryan Gleason, a Cambria County public defender, and Nicholas Banda have not challenged those findings but have told jurors their client was not driving the truck at the time of the crash.

Prosecutors showed jurors photos of tire marks on Route 271 and the blood-soaked roadway, while calling on Lees and Dr. Harold Ashcraft, then a forensic pathologist who conducted the teen’s autopsy.

The pair agreed that blunt force trauma to the back of Brian Roles Jr.’s head – an injury that broke his neck – was likely the cause of his death.

Ashcraft said the break likely was caused by his head hitting “a hard object” – an impact that stopped his body from traveling any farther after he was ejected from the truck.

The young man also received other injuries that could have been caused while he was still in the vehicle, Ashcraft said.

During cross-examination, Ashcraft told Gleason it was difficult to determine the exact spot Roles’ head was struck to cause the break.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld indicated prosecutors will continue presenting their case into today.

The trial is expected to resume at 8 a.m.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @tddavidhurst.


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