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North Huntingdon man stops road rage trial to admit guilt

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

It could have been a scene from an action movie, according to witnesses who described for a Westmoreland County jury a real-life road rage incident on Route 22 where a motorcyclist was nearly forced off the road by a Toyota Prius, then beaten by the driver.

After testimony from four witnesses, Craig Donald Woodward, 43, of North Huntingdon, cut short his assault trial and pleaded guilty to all four charges he faced.

Police said Woodward chased down Robert Vasos Jr. on his Harley Davidson motorcycle after he passed the Prius as the two pulled away from a traffic light near New Alexandria.

“There were four individual witnesses who had no biases who testified that certain things happened,” defense attorney Duke George said. “He pleaded guilty based on the advice of counsel and because it was in his best interest.”

Woodward pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated assault, along with reckless endangerment, simple assault and reckless driving.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar said he will seek jail time for Woodward when he is sentenced in about three months by Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr.

“He put a lot of people in danger,” Lazar said.

Vasos, a coal mine supervisor in West Virginia, testified he was driving to his Cambria County home on May 28, 2011, when his tranquil ride turned ugly after he pulled out in front of a silver Prius.

Vasos told jurors he flashed an obscene gesture toward the driver as the Prius sped ahead. The car pulled into his lane and forced the motorcycle towards the center jersey barrier. Vasos said he was able to pull away, only to be caught a mile or two down the road.

“I really didn't know where to escape,” Vasos testified.

The Prius pulled even with the bike farther along the highway and again forced Vasos toward the concrete barrier, then pulled ahead again and swerved back and forth across the road, according to witnesses.

The two vehicles eventually came to a stop when the Prius' driver used a metal club or a pipe to hit Vasos in the arm, witnesses said.

At the start of the trial, George told jurors that Vasos was the aggressor and that Woodward only acted after his life was threatened.

William Ellis, a pastor from Pittsburgh, told jurors he and his wife were on their way to a wedding in State College when they saw the incident.

“It looked like he was intentionally putting the motorcycle driver in danger,” Ellis said.

He told jurors that every time the motorcycle sped ahead to get away, the Prius accelerated to catch up.

“At that point I said I got to buy a Prius because it's got pretty good catch-up speed,” Ellis said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can bereached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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