The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 28, 2013

Prosecutors rest in crash death case

David Hurst
dhurst@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday against an East Taylor Township man charged in his son’s 2012 death after a crash expert testified the teen was “catapulted” from their truck’s passenger side that night – an action he said could not have occurred if the teen was behind the wheel unless the vehicle was traveling more than twice as fast.

The testimony came during a day of trial in which the truck’s place of impact into a Route 271 roadside utility pole – and the chain of events afterward – appeared to take center stage.

Wednesday’s proceedings included testimony from two prosecution crash scene experts whose reports initially differed on where the truck struck the pole as well as an emergency room doctor’s testimony that Brian Roles Sr., 38, told him he was driving his vehicle when the crash occurred – echoing a statement a day earlier by the wreck’s investigating officer.

“He was cooperative. He followed instructions ... and when I asked him the position of the car when the crash occurred, he told me he was the driver,” Memorial Medical Center’s Dr. Matthew D. Perry told Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld.

Roles faces homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence and other charges stemming from the crash on Route 271 in April 2012 that claimed the life of his 16-year-old son, Brian Roles Jr.  

Police testified this week that Roles Sr. was on painkillers and depression medication, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent – twice the state’s legal limit – that night.

His defense attorneys, set to begin presenting their case this morning, maintain the teen was driving when the crash occurred.

A Ligonier-based crash investigator, Greg Sullenberger, who spent decades investigating crashes as a state trooper, testified that he did not see how it was possible that the teen was driving, based on his investigation of the younger Roles’ injuries, the accident path and his eventual ejection from the truck.

Sullenberger, a prosecution-hired expert, said he also based his investigation on an accident reconstruction expert’s estimate that the truck was traveling 56 mph – in line with the road’s 55 mph speed limit – when it veered off Route 271.

“(Roles Jr.) could not have been propelled that far from the driver’s side ... because that side was facing the roadway,” Sullenberger said. “You just don’t have the dynamics to eject someone half that distance unless the vehicle was going twice that fast.”

Sullenberger showed a computer-simulated video of how he believed the crash occurred that showed the truck veering off Route 271 just past a slight curve in the road. The pickup then went up an embankment with its passenger side wheels off the ground. Based on his findings, he said the vehicle then went airborne briefly and struck a utility pole with the bottom of the rear passenger door as it was coming down hard on the driver’s side.

The impact caused the truck to spin and roll, launching Roles Jr. more than 50 feet, he said.

Under cross-examination by public defender Ryan Gleason, Sullenberger noted he was not involved in the case until a year after the crash and that he used information compiled by others for his findings.

Sullenberger also agreed he partly relied on a report compiled in 2012 by the crash scene’s reconstruction expert, Cpl. Thomas Carrick, that stated the truck struck the pole with its roof.

Carrick also testified Wednesday and created a stir in court when he first hesitated to give an opinion on where the truck hit the pole, and then responded to Judge Timothy Creany that, after “further review” this summer, he now agrees with Sullenberger that the vehicle struck the pole near the back passenger door.

Carrick admitted during cross-examination that he did not update his report to reflect that belief. Roles’ defense attorneys said the move was prejudicial against their client – something Creany said he did not agree with at this stage.

Gleason and fellow defense attorney Nicholas Banda said they will introduce their own witnesses early today and indicated Roles could take the stand.

Creany said one defense expert’s scheduling conflict will all but ensure testimony will continue into Friday, although he also indicated the case will likely be handed over to the jury for deliberation the same day.

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



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