Vehicular homicide charges held for court

| Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010

A Uniontown man will face charges of homicide by vehicle, reckless driving and other vehicle violations in Fayette County court.

The charges stem from a collision in which Robert Matthew Kelley, 21, of 550 Walnut Hill Road, driving a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt along Upper Middletown Road, struck a utility pole at 11:25 p.m. May 2, 2009.

Kelley's passenger, Jonathan A. Kondrla, 16, of German Township was pronounced dead at the scene.

Both Kelley and Kondrla were not wearing seat belts, and an injured Kelley had to be extracted from the vehicle.

At Kelley's preliminary hearing yesterday, Fayette County Assistant District Attorney Doug Sepic questioned Robert Herring of Smock, who witnessed the collision. Herring testified he was outside when he first heard Kelley's vehicle before the collision.

"It sounded like someone traveling at a high rate of speed," Herring said, adding that his girlfriend, who was outside with him, said it sounded like the car wasn't going to stop.

They watched as the vehicle passed the posted stop sign at the intersection of Upper Middletown Road and Old Pittsburgh Road, hit a hump in the road, go airborne and strike a utility pole, shearing the pole in half and causing a power box to explode and wires to come down and burn on the roadway.

Herring said a pine tree obstructs a motorist's view of the stop sign until they're about 20 feet from it, but that there is also a sign beforehand warning about the stop sign.

Tpr. John Weaver of the state police at Uniontown, with Troop B's Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit, testified that after performing a co-efficiency friction calculation, which represents a degree of friction between two objects and an airborne calculation to configure airborne distance, they were able to conservatively estimate Kelley's speed between 76.8 and 97.8 miles per hour and that the vehicle went airborne for a distance of 65 feet.

The posted speed limit on that section of Middletown Road is 35 miles per hour.

Weaver also testified that after removing the vehicle's system diagnostic module -- a device that calibrates changes in velocity and can trigger airbag deployment -- they were able to determine that the only change of velocity by 40.2 miles per hour, which was at the point of impact.

Weaver said they found that the five-gear manual transmission of the Cobalt was at top gear and the Cobalt's engine's revolutions per minute were at 400,608 RPMs five seconds before impact and at 400,160 RPMs three seconds before impact, which further verified the speed calculation.

Also, Weaver said there were no skid marks evident at the scene.

Kelley's attorney, John Kopas, asked Weaver if the hump or crown in the road was the factor in the collision.

"No. Speed was the factor," Weaver answered. "If the crown of the road was a factor, we'd be out there every day mapping fatal accidents."

Kopas asked District Judge Joseph M. George Jr. to dismiss Kelley from any responsibility because the testimony from both Herring and Weaver had no depth or established any causation.

"Going through a stop sign didn't stop the collision," Kopas said.

Sepic argued that because Kelley's lowest estimated speed was over double the posted speed limit, that constitutes gross negligence and asked that all charges be held for court.

Based on Weaver's testimony, George agreed to hold the charges of homicide by vehicle, failure to stop at stop and yield signs, driving vehicle at an unsafe speed, careless driving and reckless driving for county court.

Kelley, who is free on a continued bond, will have a hearing at 9:30 a.m. March 18 in Courtroom One at the Fayette County Courthouse.

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