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Unity woman to stand trial on homicide charge

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

A Unity woman will be tried on homicide by vehicle charges after a Westmoreland County judge on Thursday refused to dismiss allegations that a fatal crash was caused by a rowdy drunken passenger.

Judge Rita Hathaway ruled there is sufficient evidence to move forward the prosecution against Lisa Fannon.

Fannon, 33, is charged with homicide by vehicle while driving drunk in a Dec. 19, 2010, crash on Lemmon Road in the Marguerite area of the township.

Police said Fannon was drunk when her car careened off the road and hit a tree at 26 mph.

During testimony Thursday at a pretrial hearing, Dennis Garris of Hostetter, the front seat passenger, testified it was his boyhood friend, Richard Warren II, who caused the crash.

Warren, 31, died from his injuries more than a month after the crash. Warren was a sergeant in the Army Reserve and had served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Italy.

After a night of drinking at his home and at a local bar, Warren was a rowdy backseat passenger who attempted to cover Fannon's eyes as she drove, pulled her head back by grabbing her hair and tugged her shoulders during the short drive home, Garris testified.

“She was basically trying to get him to sit back so she could drive,” Garris said.

Garris said that as Fannon tried to fight off Warren, the car went off the road.

“I just turned my head and we smashed into a tree,” Garris testified.

The prosecution contends that alcohol was a cause of the crash.

Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda said Fannon had a blood-alcohol level of 0.146 percent when she was taken to the hospital by a rescue crew. The legal limit for drivers in Pennsylvania is 0.08 percent.

“Just because Mr. Warren was acting inappropriately in the back of the car doesn't mean her driving the car with a blood-alcohol level of 0.146 percent didn't cause the crash,” Powanda said.

Defense attorney Brian Aston said the defense will focus on Warren's actions at the trial.

“This is a case that will take a jury to tell us what happened,” Aston said.

No trial date has been scheduled.

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

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