Saltsburg man says he was shoved before fatal crash
A Saltsburg man testified on Tuesday that a front-seat passenger shoved him seconds before his sport utility vehicle careened off the road and struck a tree.
The passenger, 43-year-old Ronald Puzak of Saltsburg, died about four hours later from injuries suffered in the crash.
Police contend Clifford Porterfield, 56, was drunk when he lost control of his SUV, which skidded across the road, scraped a guide rail and went airborne for about 20 feet before it hit a tree.
Porterfield testified on Tuesday during his nonjury trial before Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec on charges of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence and related offenses.
The crash occurred as Porterfield drove his longtime friend, Puzak, home from a bar on May 13, 2011.
“I was angry with him because he tried to quit his job. We went around a bend, he gave me a shove and off the road we went,” Porterfield testified.
Porterfield said he did not initially tell police about the shove from Puzak because he did not want to get his friend in trouble and was concerned how that information would impact an insurance claim.
“If I had known he was dead, I would have told the truth,” Porterfield testified.
Porterfield told Blahovec he was not drunk and had consumed four 16-ounce beers from about 7 p.m. until 2:30 a.m.
A breath test conducted about two hours after the crash found Porterfield's blood-alcohol content to be 0.151 percent, or nearly twice the limit at which a motorist is considered to be intoxicated in Pennsylvania.
Defense attorney Jim Crosby said the breath test was flawed because the machine may have malfunctioned.
But Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda argued the machine worked properly and a blood test taken four hours after the crash confirmed Porterfield was drunk.
Powanda said Porterfield's blood test determined his alcohol level was 0.118 percent.
Puzak died from blunt-force trauma to his chest. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, testified Puzak suffered multiple fractures of six ribs and internal bleeding.
Blahovec said he would issue a verdict within five days.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.