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Rostraver man held for trial for hit-run involving wheelchair

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 2:32 p.m.

A Rostraver man will face trial on charges that he critically injured a township gun shop owner in a hit-and-run on Nov. 6.

Rostraver police arrested Donald Charles Eichler, 53, of Salem Church Road on Nov. 16. He is charged with causing an accident involving personal injury, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence and numerous motor vehicle violations.

Eichler did not testify during a preliminary hearing on Monday before West Newton District Judge Charles Christner.

Shop owner Byron White, 74, will require skilled nursing care for the remainder of his life, his wife said on Monday.

Barbara White said she and her husband, who has used a wheelchair for 11 years, closed their business, The Gun Rack, at 5:55 p.m. Nov. 6. They have operated the business on Route 136 for 27 years, she said.

As she locked up, Byron White guided his motorized wheelchair about 15 feet alongside the roadway to their adjacent driveway. He was trying to avoid becoming stuck in the muddy ground, Barbara White said.

When she did not see his wheelchair in the driveway, she grabbed a cordless phone and flashlight from their shop.

“I saw something that looked like a body at the bottom of the driveway. It was a bumper. ... I was hysterical at this point. I ran down the driveway. I heard him calling, ‘Hey, hon, help me, help me,' ” White said.

She found her husband lying on the ground, White said.

Motorist Danielle Hitson of Sewickley testified that she followed a black pickup from Collinsburg onto Route 136 the evening of Nov. 6.

She said the truck was swerving and, as it turned onto Route 136, she saw it strike something.

“It appeared to be a mailbox. Sparks flew, a piece of what appeared to be a bumper flew toward my car,” Hitson said.

The truck then sped up, turned off its lights and turned onto Salem Church Road, Hitson said.

Police officers from West Newton and Rostraver testified that debris at the crash site led them to search for a black Nissan Titan.

Someone who lives in the area led them to Eichler‘s home, where a damaged Titan was found in the driveway shortly after the accident, police said.

West Newton police Sgt. Anthony Gillingham said Eichler was outside his home.

“He was staggering and appeared to be heavily intoxicated. ... I asked him why he left the scene of an accident. He said, ‘Because I was drinking,' ” Gillingham testified.

Rostraver police Officer Stephen Sholtis said Eichler said he had been drinking at a social club in Collinsburg and estimated he had consumed “three or four beers, maybe.”

Sholtis said Eichler stated that he felt an “impact” across from The Gun Rack.

“I told him he hit a person in a wheelchair. He just looked at me and said, ‘I thought it was a deer.' ... After several more minutes he said he hoped the person was okay,” Sholtis said.

Trooper Todd Stephenson performed accident reconstruction tests using the mangled wheelchair and Eichler's car.

“Damage indicators just lined up perfectly,” Stephenson said.

Eichler remains in the Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $50,000 bond.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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