Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Bradley Demitras, 35, admitted he failed to properly secure the wood chipper to his dump truck April 13, when the tow broke free and collided with the minivan on Route 8 in Richland. The impact killed Eugene Spencer Morrison, 37, and his triplets, Garret and Alaina, both 4. The third triplet, Ethan, survived serious injuries.
"While no guilty plea or conviction could ever relieve our pain or satisfy our anger, the plea agreement ... assures that Mr. Demitras takes full responsibility for the deaths of our loved ones and the injuries to Ethan, while sparing our family the nightmare of reliving the details of that horrific day through a public trial," Morrison's wife, Nicole, said in a prepared statement.
Morrison sat with about a dozen friends and relatives in the courtroom of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus yesterday.
What was expected to be a weeklong trial ended quickly with Demitras' guilty plea.
Demitras told investigators he had taken two stolen Percocet pills and had a beer at Cole's Tavern the day of the accident, said Assistant District Attorney Stephie Kapourales. Demitras also told investigators he was hung over after taking oxycodone and drinking a half-bottle of bourbon the night before the accident, Kapourales said.
Toxicology reports showed no signs of alcohol or controlled substances in Demitras' blood, although a urine test did reveal traces of the oxycodone, Kapourales said.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said his client is remorseful, but was adamant that drugs and alcohol did not play a part in the accident. The toxicology reports proved his client lied to investigators about taking the painkillers, Thomassey said.
"The most important aspect to this case is that drugs and alcohol had nothing to do with it," Thomassey said. "This was a horrible, horrendous accident that could happen any time."
More training is needed for drivers hauling heavy equipment on Pennsylvania roads, Thomassey said.
Nicole Morrison agreed.
"Now, we must focus our attention on the task force that has been created to increase safety stops and enforcement of the motor vehicle laws that, if followed, would have prevented the loss of life my family has suffered," she said in her statement. "If we are vigilant in the cause, our family's loss will not be in vain."
Evidence in the case, Kapourales said, would have shown Demitras was traveling about 70 mph in a 45-mph zone. The minivan was traveling below the speed limit.
Demitras told investigators he felt a jerk and heard a pop, then looked in the rearview mirror to see the wood chipper careening sideways down the road. The 6,050-pound tow slammed into the minivan less than two seconds after disconnecting, scattering debris more than 100 feet away, Kapourales said.
Demitras, who also pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and several motor vehicle violations, faces more than 17 years in prison when he is sentenced May 22. Until then, he will remain under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Jason Cato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7840.