A Johnstown-area man was found guilty Friday by a Cambria County judge of reckless endangerment for permitting a 14-year-old to operate an ATV that crashed and killed a teenage passenger.
Judge Patrick Kiniry, presiding at the nonjury trial, convicted 32-year-old Scott Wyrwas of the misdemeanor offense, which carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
Wyrwas, who formerly lived on McMillen Street in Johnstown, said that he now resides on Second Street in East Conemaugh.
His sentencing date will be set later by the judge.
Wyrwas was charged by East Taylor Township police in the Aug. 28, 2010, accident in which 14-year-old Kiersten Wagner of Richland Township – who was not wearing a helmet – was killed. The driver, now 16, also was injured, but was wearing a helmet, authorities said.
The accident took place just off of Rosedale Street, a dead-end street used by ATV riders to access riding trails in the wooded area. Wyrwas and his family, along with about 20 other people, were at a surprise birthday party for him. His present from his wife that day was a new set of tires for his Polaris quad, according to testimony.
Wyrwas, who took the stand in his own defense, testified that he gave permission for his then-14-year-old nephew to drive the quad.
“He had experience. I trusted him,” Wyrwas said of the youth, whose family has an ATV. The teen operated Wyrwas’ quad several times previously, the defendant said.
Wyrwas said that he saw the ATV “leaving the driveway, (The teen operator) had a helmet on. Kiersten didn’t. I didn’t like it but I didn’t go (to stop them). I trusted the boy enough.”
But the defendant admitted to the judge, “I didn’t feel right about it,” for the teen driver to have a passenger with him on the quad. If two people were to be riding, he said that he preferred one was an adult.
Wyrwas also testified that he was aware that the quad’s seat – although large enough for two – had a symbol warning “No passenger.”
The defendant said that he knew the teen driver was younger than 16 and did not have a required safety certificate to operate an ATV. Wyrwas also testified that he knew the quad’s tires were not rated for use on asphalt roads.
In convicting the defendant, Kiniry recalled, “You said that you didn’t like it, but you didn’t do anything about it.”
Cpl. Thomas Carrick, a state police accident reconstructionist, said that he was unable to determine the speed of the ATV.
But he said that there were some scratches on the asphalt street indicating that the ATV tires were not getting traction on the paved road.
There also were 13 feet of skid marks, partially on the road and then onto an unpaved portion, evidence that the driver applied the brakes, Carrick testified.
The ATV went off the road on a curve and hit a tree, throwing the girl from the vehicle. It then struck a second tree before entering a ditch and rolling over, Carrick said.
Attorney David Raho asked the judge for a not-guilty verdict.
“My client did not cause this accident,” Raho said. “This was not something foreseeable. He trusted (the teen’s) experience.”
But Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld said Wyrwas was responsible for what happened.
“The defendant set the wheels in motion for this accident,” Hochfeld said. “He could have stopped (the boy) from operating the ATV.”
Wyrwas also was convicted of the summary offenses of permitting a person under the age to operate the ATV in violation of state law, of not having the required insurance for the ATV, and permitting an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle.
Kiniry found him not guilty of two other summary offenses: Unlawful operation of a vehicle at an unsafe speed and permitting a juvenile to operate a vehicle carelessly. The prosecution failed to present evidence – as required by law – of the juvenile’s conviction of careless driving, the judge said.
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