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Survivor charged with DUI in deaths of 3 passengers

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By Tim Karan
Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 7:40 a.m.

The lone survivor of a crash that killed three Punxsutawney teens in November faces vehicular homicide charges after an investigation revealed he was under the influence of alcohol and speeding.

Blair E. Smith, 19, of Punxsutawney was taken into custody by state police at his home on Monday and faces three counts of homicide by motor vehicle, three counts of homicide by motor vehicle while DUI and additional charges of careless driving, reckless driving and speeding. He was arraigned by District Judge Samuel Goldstrohm and placed in Armstrong County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

According to the criminal complaint filed by state police yesterday, a toxicology report from the night of the crash revealed Smith had a blood alcohol level of 0.0344 percent. He later admitted to drinking one malt beverage.

The crash occurred along Route 839 near Route 1022 in Wayne about 10:30 p.m. Nov. 11. Witnesses reported seeing alcoholic beverages in Smith's 1996 Eagle Talon and said Smith was the only driver of the car that night. Smith and passengers Sean McConnaughey, 18, and Dylan Behrendt and Joel Riggleman, both 19, met with another group of teens and traveled to a church parking lot in Dayton.

Smith told police the driver of the other vehicle informed him about a nearby straight stretch of highway. When he left the lot in that direction, Smith said McConnaughey was in the front passenger seat while Riggleman and Behrendt were in the back.

Smith said the last thing he remembered was driving on the highway at about 70 to 75 miles per hour. The posted speed limit where he lost control of the vehicle is 35 miles per hour, but the car left the roadway approximately 48 feet inside a posted 45 mile-per-hour zone.

A crime scene reconstruction revealed the vehicle left the roadway from the west berm and went airborne for about 117 feet. It rolled 252 feet and ejected all four occupants before coming to rest in a pasture.

Several empty and unopened cans of beer and an unopened bottle of Smirnoff blueberry lemonade were discovered at the site.

McConnaughey was pronounced dead on arrival and Behrendt and Riggleman died from massive trauma in UPMC Hospital. Smith was in critical condition in Allegheny General Hospital before his eventual recovery and release.

All four teens were 2011 graduates of Punxsutawney High School.

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