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August 27, 2013

Who was driving? Court proceedings in deadly crash underway

EBENSBURG — Jurors stood next to the damaged remains of a pickup in which an East Taylor teen was traveling the night of the crash that took his life.

The debate that began in court Monday was about who was behind the wheel of that vehicle.

Brian Roles Sr.’s first day of trial in Cambria County court opened with attorneys on both sides of the case painting a different picture of the 2012 crash on Route 271 that claimed his 16-year-old son.

While prosecutors outlined a case in which Roles was speeding along the highway high on a mix of alcohol and pills, the East Taylor man’s defense attorneys said the teen was behind the wheel when the crash occurred, not their client.

“Evidence will show Mr. Roles was impaired that night ... his vehicle was traveling 56 mph on that road,” Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld said.

“This was a terrible accident,” Defense Attorney Nicholas Banda countered. “But it was Brian (Roles) Jr. who was the driver of that truck.”

A jury of six men and six women are hearing the case before President Judge Timothy Creany.

Roles, 38, faces vehicular homicide while driving drunk and related charges in the crash.

Investigators say it occurred after the vehicle veered off the road during a northbound turn, causing it to hit an embankment, strike a utility pole and then roll over.

The younger Roles, a Conemaugh Valley student, was pronounced dead at the scene after being ejected from the pickup truck, police have said.

Roles Sr. had a suspended license at the time of the crash stemming from a previous DUI accident, and prosecutors called on analysts from a Philadelphia lab to testify that the East Taylor man’s blood had traces of anxiety medication and oxycodone, an opiate painkiller, in his system that night.

Hochfeld also called on NMS Labs’ forensic toxicologist Edward Barbieri, who told the court the man’s blood alcohol content was 0.17 percent – more than twice the state’s legal limit – when a blood test was taken approximately a half-hour after the crash. Added to the anxiety medication and a beyond-therapeutic amount of painkiller and “it makes it that much worse,” he added.

Banda and Public Defender Ryan Gleason didn’t challenge the test results.

But they pointed out that Barbieri had no knowledge of whether their client was behind the wheel of the vehicle that night or other details in the case.

Barbieri agreed.

Attorneys from both sides indicated they’ll present expert testimony related to the crash itself to make their case on who was driving that night.

Hochfeld indicated prosecutors will call on a crash scene reconstruction expert who will testify that the teen was thrown from the passenger seat when the impact occurred.

The trial’s first day wrapped with a short trip to the Cambria County Fairgrounds, where Roles’ white Chevy pickup was parked.

The vehicle sat in a nearly empty garage, still muddied from the wreck.

One tire was flat. Its hood remained bent and crumpled. A web of broken glass formed the front windshield.

Damage was most evident to the driver’s side of the truck, where the cab roof was noticeably dented.

Creany told jurors to get a close look at the truck, before reminding them they will return this morning for a second day of testimony.

The trial itself could last into Friday, he indicated.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/TDDavidHurst.

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