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Lawyer blames dangerous road for crash that killed passenger

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Westmoreland County jurors will have to decide if a Hempfield man was too drunk to drive or whether a dangerous road caused the death of his best friend in a car crash more than three years ago.

During opening arguments Tuesday in the vehicular homicide trial of David O'Hara, 24, the prosecution said alcohol was to blame for the violent crash on Swede Hill Road on April 11, 2009, that killed 20-year-old Tyler Bridges.

“The defendant allowed his vehicle to drift off the roadway and hit a tree head-on,” said Assistant District Attorney Greg DeFloria.

Three police witnesses testified that O'Hara, who was 20 at the time, was drunk when he lost control of his 1990 Acura Legend.

DeFloria told jurors that O'Hara's blood-alcohol content was 0.144 percent — seven times the limit at which a motorist who is a minor is considered to be intoxicated. Underage drivers in Pennsylvania are considered to be drunk with a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 percent.

O'Hara also was charged with speeding, although state police accident reconstructionist Bradley H. Overdorff testified he could not calculate how fast the Acura was traveling when it left the roadway.

State police Sgt. Michael Schmidt testified that O'Hara's car was traveling 56 mph when the car hit the tree. The speed limit on that section of Swede Hill Road is 35 mph, Schmidt said.

The defense contends the road itself, and not O'Hara's driving or his alcohol consumption, caused the crash and Bridges' death.

Defense attorney Jeff Monzo said the curve is too dangerous and drivers are not properly warned of road conditions.

Monzo told jurors that in the 15 months before the fatal crash, there were three accidents near the Swede Hill Road curve. And three months after the fatal crash, PennDOT installed a warning sign alerting motorists to the curve, Monzo said in his opening statement.

“This case was a car accident — a tragic car accident. It was a dangerous, unsafe curve that caused this accident and Tyler Bridges' death,” Monzo said.

The trial will continue Wednesday morning before Judge Debra Pezze.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293.

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