The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 29, 2013

Dad: Son was behind wheel in fatal crash

David Hurst

EBENSBURG — The man charged in his son’s death said he had a seizure in Kernville minutes before their vehicle crashed and awoke to find his son driving. He said an oncoming car forced them to swerve and wreck that night.

Brian Roles Sr. choked up as he told the court he grabbed the wheel “but it was too late” – a statement echoed by the truck’s third occupant, a cousin to Brian Jr., the youth killed in the crash.

That version contradicted testimony by two doctors and the accident’s lead investigator, who all said Roles told them he was driving when the crash occurred, prompting prosecutors to suggest the man and backseat passenger Kevin Roles, his nephew, might have concocted a court defense before the trial.

Prosecutors followed up by playing a phone call between the pair in which then-jailed Roles Sr. asked about a text regarding the driver “behind the wheel.” Moments later, a man – apparently Roles – added, “You know Little Brian was driving, right?”

Roles Sr., 38, faces a list of charges, including homicide by vehicle while intoxicated, stemming from the April 8, 2012, crash on Route 271 in East Taylor Township.

Prosecutors say Roles Sr., of East Taylor, was driving drunk without a license and was on a mix of prescribed drugs, including painkillers, that night. This week, prosecutors called on three people who have said Roles told them he was at the wheel, including a doctor he visited three weeks after the wreck for a pain medication adjustment.

“He said he was driving his truck and was run off the road,” Dr. Eric Roslonski said Thursday, adding that no mention of a seizure was made.

Kevin Roles, 16, testified that Roles – a man he called “Big Brian” – drove them to Kernville the night of the crash. But Brian Jr. ended up behind the wheel after they bought subs from a local six-pack shop, he said.

Roles Sr. was walking to his truck and “went all weird and just fell over,” Kevin Roles said.

Roles was unresponsive, the teen testified, but Brian Jr. told him such seizures were common and that he’d be fine.

“So we put him in the truck,” Kevin Roles said.

“You didn’t go into the store for help?” Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld asked during cross-examination. “You didn’t take him to the hospital?”

“No. I didn’t think about it,” Kevin Roles responded.

Roles Sr. said he’s had a history of seizures but quit taking medication for it months before the crash. He told jurors he regained consciousness as his truck approached a set of blinker lights on Prospect hill.

Roles Sr. admitted he was confused to why his son, who did not have a driver’s license, was at the wheel but barely had a chance to react. After they rounded a curve, a set of bright lights came right at them, he said.

“I heard him yell, ‘Dad’ ” Roles Sr. said, adding that he pulled at the wheel.

“But we hit the embankment. We started flipping.”

The truck came to a rest on its driver’s side, tossing Roles Sr. onto its door, both testified.

Kevin Roles said he helped his uncle climb from the truck through the passenger window and then ran for help to a relative’s nearby home when they couldn’t find his cousin.

He said he returned to find the boy lifeless on the highway.

“He was like a brother to me,” Kevin Roles said.

He said he didn’t comprehend his cousin was dead until a sheet was placed over Brian Jr.’s body.

Kevin Roles, who said he sustained a concussion in the wreck, testified he told East Taylor Patrolman Shaun Gregory that “Brian” was driving but didn’t specify which one.

Gregory testified Tuesday that Kevin Roles indicated his uncle was at the wheel that night – something he maintained the defendant also confirmed the night of the crash.

Roles Sr. repeatedly denied it.

“I didn’t tell anyone I was driving,” Roles told defense attorney Nicholas Banda, saying he talked to one policeman at the crash scene and never again spoke to investigators.

He said he was silent at the scene when asked about who was behind the wheel because he was worried his son could get in trouble for driving without a license.

“But you already knew he was dead,” Hochfeld responded, recalling Roles Sr.’s testimony moments earlier that he abandoned CPR on his son because “I knew he was gone.”

“I believed he was dead. I’m not a paramedic,” Roles Sr. countered.

Roles Sr. later blamed himself for the crash, saying “Things would have been different if I hadn’t passed out that night.”

Hochfeld asked him and Kevin Roles whether they had discussed the accident, and received differing responses.

Kevin Roles said he did not talk to his uncle about the incident, adding that “seemed wrong” because the trial was approaching.

Brian Roles Sr. said they discussed the night of the accident, but not specifics or his defense.

“I just told him to say who I am ... that there’s Big Brian and Little Brian – the difference between us. And that I had a seizure,” he said.

The testimony prompted prosecutors to play the November 2012 phone call made from jail. Roles admitted it began with a warning it might be recorded.

On the recording, the pair discussed a text message, prompting Roles to ask if a particular one mentioning the truck’s driver had been deleted.

Roles confirmed he made the call but suggested the conversation recorded was misunderstood.

“It was a text Brian (Jr.) sent to someone telling someone he was driving. It got deleted,” Roles Sr. said. “I needed him to tell people what that text said.”

Testimony in the trial is expected to wrap up today. Banda told President Judge Timothy Creany that the defense will have their own crash expert testify before resting their case.

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