The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 19, 2013

Trial over death centers on ‘Elaine push’

Kathy Mellott

BEDFORD — The “Elaine push,” popularized in the 1990s television sitcom “Seinfeld,” kept the jury out of the courtroom and occupied the attention of a judge and two lawyers much of Wednesday morning on the opening day of the trial for a man who police said pushed his best friend, leading to that man’s death.

Randy Foor, 52, of Chalybeate Road, Bedford, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter resulting from an Aug. 11 fight with Dennis Sprigg, 49, of Manns Choice.

The “Elaine push” was employed in a number of “Seinfeld” episodes by character Elaine Benes.

State police said Foor had used the term in explaining his actions to Sprigg’s girlfriend, Sue Hileman.

After lengthy deliberations, Judge Travis Livengood ruled that the term could be used in the trial, but prohibited Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins from showing the jury a video of the push from one of the TV episodes.

Testimony is expected to conclude this morning.

Wednesday’s testimony included nine witnesses presented by the prosecution including Hileman, Foor’s fiance Robin Robertson, emergency medical responders and some people who attended the Aug. 11 gathering at Foor’s Bedford Township home.

The witnesses agreed that Foor and Sprigg were lifelong friends who argued at times.

Both were drinking at the gathering when the atmosphere turned tense, according to party attendee Jacob Kraybill, the stepson of Foor’s sister.

The two were intoxicated and were arguing about how many auto accidents Sprigg had over the years when the altercation turned physical.

Foor pushed Sprigg backward with what Kraybill described as both hands to the Sprigg’s shoulders. Sprigg fell and struck his head on pavement.  

“Randy was trying to help him (Sprigg) to his car, they fell a couple of times, they got up and started fighting,” Kraybill testified. “And Randy pushed him (Sprigg) one last time.”

Much of the afternoon was taken up with Kraybill’s testimony.  

Bedford Area Ambulance personnel testified that when they arrived at the scene, Sprigg was conscious and did not want to go to the hospital. He had blood coming from his ear and eventually passed out. He was taken by medical helicopter to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where he remained for more than a month.

Hileman testified that there were a few times when Sprigg appeared to be responsive, but he never talked. Sprigg was transferred Sept. 19 to Pennknoll Village in Snake Spring Township for long-term nursing care.

He died Sept. 28 following cardiac arrest, according to testimony.

One of the points argued before the judge prior to the start of testimony was an earlier incident involving Foor and Sprigg. Livengood allowed the testimony of Randy Batzel of Bedford, a man who described himself as like a brother to the two men.

Batzel said the three were at his home playing poker about four months prior to the push when Foor and Sprigg got into a fight. Batzel had told police that Foor punched Sprigg in the mouth. But in testifying Wednesday, he said Foor “punched” the $3 in the poker pot into Sprigg’s mouth.  

Defense attorney Thomas Dickey, in his opening argument, told the jury that Foor’s push of Sprigg in August was self-defense because Sprigg had become aggressive toward Foor.

That characterization was supported by Kraybill, who said he saw Sprigg getting aggressive. Kraybill said he and others told Sprigg to knock it off.

“Dennis (Sprigg) went toward Randy, when he got close to Randy, Randy pushed him,” the 19-year-old testified.

Sprigg was described as 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 200 pounds. Foor is shorter and weighs significantly less.

At least one witness described Sprigg as muscular with significant upper body mass.

Along with involuntary manslaughter, Foor is charged with aggravated assault.


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