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Jury issues acquittal in fatal crash in Unity

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Unity woman was acquitted on Wednesday of charges that her drunken state caused a fatal car crash nearly three years ago that killed a backseat passenger.

After about three hours of deliberation, a Westmoreland County jury found Lisa K. Fannon not guilty of homicide by vehicle while driving drunk. But jurors found her guilty of two counts of driving while drunk.

“She is pleased with the verdict,” defense attorney Brian Aston said shortly after the jury's decision was read.

Fannon, 35, was charged with causing the Dec. 19, 2010, crash on Lemmon Road in the Marguerite section of Unity Township. Fannon's car failed to negotiate a curve to the right and struck a tree.

Richard Warren II, 31, a sergeant in the Army Reserve who had served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Italy, died from injuries suffered in the crash.

During the three-day trial, the defense contended Warren was drunk and caused the crash by grabbing and distracting Fannon during the drive.

Aston conceded during the trial that Fannon was drunk, but said her intoxication did not cause the crash.

Fannon, Warren and the front-seat passenger, Dennis Garris, had spent five hours drinking at Monday's Bar, according to police. Garris, a prosecution witness, testified that Warren was rowdy in the car and caused the crash when he tried to demonstrate a maneuver he learned in the military to incapacitate a person by pressing on a shoulder.

“Miss Fannon was just trying to get them home safely,” Aston said in his closing argument. “Mr. Warren chose the absolute worst time to demonstrate his prowess in hand-to-hand combat.”

The prosecution argued that Fannon's drinking caused the crash.

Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda told jurors that Fannon's blood-alcohol content was 0.146 percent, nearly twice the limit at which a motorist in Pennsylvania is considered intoxicated.

Powanda said Garris' testimony was at odds with a statement he gave to police after the crash in which he blamed Fannon for the crash.

He said the damage to Fannon's car could have resulted from her hitting the tree at a speed higher than 26 mph. A state police trooper who reconstructed the crash testified on Tuesday that Fannon's car traveled at least that speed, one mile per hour faster than the posted speed limit, when it hit the tree.

“He (Warren) was injured when Miss Fannon failed the negotiate this bend. It happened because she was under the influence of alcohol,” Powanda said in his closing argument.

Fannon will return to court in about three months when Judge Al Bell will sentence her for the DUI convictions.

Fannon would have faced a mandatory three- to six-year state prison sentence if she had been convicted of homicide by vehicle while driving drunk.

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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