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New Kensington driver held for trial in Dutch Girl crash, fire

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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:36 a.m.
 

A 23-year-old New Kensington man will stand trial for allegedly causing a crash and fire at Dutch Girl Cleaners in Lower Burrell in August.

His defense attorney, though, said the shoe, in this case, literally doesn't fit.Scott Michael McCann is accused of drunken driving and other charges for the 3 a.m. wreck that injured him and sent passenger David James Puchtler, 31, of Plum to an intensive care unit.

At McCann's preliminary hearing Tuesday, public defender Christopher Haidze pointed out that a size 9 men's shoe was found under the brake pedal of McCann's demolished Honda hatchback in which the two were traveling.

Since McCann wears size 11, Haidze suggested that it wasn't McCann's, and its location suggests that McCann wasn't driving.“If the shoe fits,” Haidze said, questioning who was driving.

Haidze also said Puchtler has been convicted of drunken driving while McCann hasn't.

“Who is the more likely driver in a drunken-driving accident?” he asked. Assistant District Attorney Judy Petrush said both men were outside of the car when police arrived.

“We don't know if Puchtler was thrown from the car or pulled from it by McCann,” she said.

Puchtler testified that McCann was driving his own car.

“It has a stick shift, and I don't know how to drive one,” Puchtler testified.Puchtler testified he met McCann at work and late on Aug. 24 the men decided to go to Gunny's Lounge in New Kensington “for a couple of hours.”

The men had planned to go to a Seventh Street apartment in New Kensington to see McCann's mother. But instead, in the early morning hours, wound up in Lower Burrell trying to visit a man.

The car was heading up Edgecliff Road and had gone past a curve when it veered into a utility pole near the intersection with Leechburg Road.

Puchtler testified that he was drunk and didn't know exactly he was.

“I remember the car going up the hill,” he testified. “It lost control and started weaving back and forth. Then the car skipped into the telephone pole. That's the last thing I remember.”

Lower Burrell Patrolman Ken Smail testified he was driving on Leechburg Road when he saw three bright flashes ahead of him. “Then everything went black” when the utility lines were cut and the short circuit started a fire at the cleaners at 2795 Leechburg Road.

McCann's car caught fire, too.

“I searched the blazing car,” Small testified. “The radio was blaring. I didn't see anyone, but I heard someone moaning.” The patrolman testified he found a dazed Puchtler on the ground. He told him not to move because his injuries looked serious — among them a telephone pole splinter stuck in Puchtler's back.

Another officer found McCann in nearby bushes. He wasn't moving, and at first Smail didn't know if he was alive.

Both McCann and Puchtler were taken to Pittsburgh hospitals.Blood alcohol content tests were done on both men. McCann, the accused driver, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent, almost twice the 0.08 percent legal limit to drive.

Smail said paramedics performed CPR on Puchtler in the ambulance. He was then flown to UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh and admitted to the intensive care unit.

Puchtler said that his injuries forced him to miss three months of work, and continues to have significant shoulder problems.

During his closing argument, Haidze told District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec that Puchtler called Lower Burrell police to ask how McCann was doing and to say he wasn't driving.

Haidze said that was a self-serving phone call “by a man who had drunken driving convictions in 2001 and 2007.”

Yakopec disagreed.

She ordered all charges against McCann held for court.

McCann was released on $1,000 unsecured bond pending trial in Westmoreland County Court.

In addition to drunken driving, McCann is charged with aggravated assault by driving, reckless and careless driving, speeding and possession of a small amount of marijuana.He is scheduled to be arraigned in county court on March 20.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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