Jury convicts driver of third-degree murder in 2016 East Huntingdon pedestrian death
Jurors deliberated about three hours Friday before convicting a New Stanton man of third-degree murder in the death of an East Huntingdon pedestrian on Christmas Eve 2016.
Matthew Ramsay, 31, was found guilty of being under the influence of drugs when he deliberately veered his car across traffic on Ruffsdale-Alverton Road and hit and killed 49-year-old Joseph Cummins, who was out jogging with his dog.
“He took our dad away from us,” said Cummins’ eldest daughter, Kaylee Cummins, 23. “He was irreplaceable, but we now have solace that this person will no longer harm anyone else.”
In addition to the murder charge, Ramsay was found guilty of vehicular homicide and one count of driving while under the influence of a controlled substance. He was acquitted of charges of vehicular homicide while intoxicated and a lesser count of DUI.
Ramsay, who had been free on bail since his arrest, was taken into custody after Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani said he was now a flight risk.
Ramsay will be sentenced in about three months. He could face up to 40 years in prison. Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan said he will ask that Ramsay serve 15 to 40 years in prison, the terms of a plea bargain he rejected before the trial.
Ramsay last year rejected another plea bargain offer under which he would have been sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison.
Ramsay did not testify during the three-day trial, but jurors heard a recorded police interrogation in which he denied he knew he hit Cummins before he drove away from the scene.
Defense attorney Jim Robinson in his closing argument to the jury Friday morning said there was no evidence Ramsay had consumed drugs beyond a daily dose of methadone prescribed since early 2014 to help him battle a heroin addiction.
“If you convict Mr. Ramsay of those offenses, you are basing it on speculation,” Robinson argued. “This was an accident.”
Ramsay’s wife testified he took Xanax and smoked marijuana after the fatal crash and before he was questioned by police.
Prosecutors contended that in addition to methadone, the antidepressant Xanax and marijuana were in Ramsay’s blood that was tested 15 hours after the fatal crash. They said based on circumstantial evidence the jury could deduce he had those drugs in his system when Cummins was killed.
Because of those drugs, Ramsay was incapable of safely operating his car when he swerved his 1995 Saturn into the oncoming lane of traffic and hit Cummins from behind as he walked with his dog on the side of the road and then fled the scene, prosecutors said.
Flanigan argued that Ramsay’s drug use warranted a third-degree murder conviction.
“What’s more lethal, a bullet or a Saturn? How many people could the defendant kill that day if the Cummins were on a family walk?” Flanigan asked jurors. “The defendant’s actions caused far more damage than any bullet could have.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .