Jury begins deliberating in case of 2016 Thanksgiving crash that killed family
Jurors must decide whether the man charged with causing the 2016 Thanksgiving crash that killed a family of three truly intended to cause harm that day or if the crash was the unintended consequence of reckless actions.
The jury began deliberating Wednesday, weighing not whether 24-year-old Demetrius Coleman is guilty of causing the fatal crash, but whether is he guilty of third-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
Coleman was 22 on Nov. 24, 2016, when he ran from a traffic stop near the GetGo on Route 30 in North Versailles. He drove on Route 30 at speeds reaching 100 mph before he slammed into Kaylie Meininger’s Ford Taurus, killing Meininger, her 2-year-old daughter, Annika, and her fiancé, David Bianco.
The car burst into flames, creating a fireball so severe that it was not immediately clear to first responders how many people were in the car.
Coleman’s attorney, Brent McCune, ran through the slew of charges against his client: homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and others. He told the jury that Coleman was guilty of killing the family as they drove to their Thanksgiving dinner that day but that his client didn’t mean to. McCune asked the jury to convict Coleman of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Coleman testified in his own defense, saying that he never meant to kill anyone. He said he doesn’t remember throttling down Route 30 or the fireball crash that ended the pursuit.
He admitted he’d been selling drugs that day and he’d gotten high on marijuana earlier. When East McKeesport officer Scott Lowden pulled him over for an illegal left turn, he became scared as time passed and more cars arrived. Coleman had no license and was wanted on two bench warrants. His passenger had heroin on her.
“I was scared,” he testified. “I didn’t want to put myself in more trouble.”
He said he didn’t remember how many police cars showed up to the traffic stop, “but I figured I was probably going to go to jail on Thanksgiving.”
Assistant District Attorney Douglas Maloney questioned whether Coleman knew there were warrants out for him. Coleman said he figured there were, but he wasn’t certain. Maloney also asked why Coleman didn’t admit to detectives there was heroin in the car. Coleman said that it wasn’t actually in his possession at the time.
“My job is not to help the detectives,” said Coleman, who remained reserved during his questioning. “I only help myself.”
Maloney asked if he thought lying to detectives that day would help him. Coleman said yes.
Maloney seized on the number of bad decisions Coleman made leading up to the fatal crash, including selling drugs, getting high, fleeing police, pulling into traffic without stopping or braking and continuing down Route 30 at high speeds.
He pointed out that Coleman almost struck another car head-on then nearly plowed in to an oncoming police cruiser. Rather than stopping when he ran red lights or nearly killed two others, Coleman kept driving, Maloney said.
He argued that Coleman knew he was going to kill someone if he kept driving like that, and he kept driving anyway.
“He was fully aware of the risk of his driving,” he said.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter .