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Wrong-way driver was drunk in fatal Route 28 crash, trooper testifies

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:46 a.m.
Photo courtesy of WPXI TV
James Alexander Hanion of Penn Hills.

A former Kittanning man said he flashed his headlights at a wrong-way driver on northbound Route 28 in O'Hara seconds before a deadly head-on crash in 2013.

Todd Smith, 45, now of Eau Claire, Butler County, testified on Friday in Pittsburgh at the preliminary hearing for James Alexander Hanion, 64, of Penn Hills.

Hanion is accused of driving the wrong way on Route 28 about 12:30 a.m. Feb. 24, 2013, and crashing into Matthew R. Eiseman, 31, of Indiana Township. Eiseman died as a result of the crash.

Hanion “had an odor of alcohol coming from his open car window,” Smith testified.

After testimony from Smith and two state troopers, District Judge Beth Mills ordered Hanion to stand trial on 12 charges including vehicular homicide while driving drunk. Hanion entered a not guilty plea and remains free in lieu of $10,000 unsecured bond pending trial.

Smith told the judge he and his fiancee were in the left-hand northbound lane after an evening at a casino. Smith testified he first saw southbound headlights coming at him on the divided highway about 40 yards away.

“I flashed my lights three times. Then I slowed down and pulled over to the right lane. The driver in the car behind me moved into the left lane and passed me as I slowed down,” Smith testified.

“I was moving to the shoulder of the road and was not at a complete stop when I saw the two cars colliding,” Smith said.

While Smith's fiancee, Karen Czech, telephoned 911, Smith ran to the mangled cars a quarter-mile north of the Delafield Road exit (Exit 7).

He first stopped at Eiseman's black Infiniti I30.

“He was unconscious and barely breathing,” Smith testified. “I told him not to move and that help was on the way and then I went to the other car.”

Hanion “looked dazed and confused” to Smith, who later told state police Hanion got out of the car and was belligerent toward him and others.

Trooper Stephen Rowe said he received a call about a car being driven the wrong way on Route 28 and soon after was told of a crash.

“It was very cold, but clear,” he testified of the weather conditions.

While Rowe investigated the scene, other troopers went to the Pittsburgh hospital where Hanion was being treated.

State police Sgt. Christopher Hugar said Hanion told him about 2 a.m. he had been at a party in Fox Chapel before the crash.

“When I asked him if he had alcohol, he didn't reply. Then he said, ‘It's obvious that I did,' ” Hugar said.

“My belief is that he was impaired,” Hugar testified.

Defense attorney Blair Jones asked Hugar if he knew Hanion was seriously injured and if Hanion was given morphine or another painkiller at the hospital. Hugar said he didn't know.

Hugar told Jones that Hanion “wasn't slurring his speech” and he didn't have glassy or red eyes two hours after the crash.

Hugar testified Hanion had a blood-alcohol content test result of 0.21 percent when tested about two hours after the 12:40 a.m. crash. That is almost three times the legal limit.

After the hearing, Jones said Hanion was a retired health-care professional but declined to elaborate. Hanion didn't comment as he left Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

Eiseman's family attended Friday's hearing, but declined to comment.

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

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