Trial begins for man accused of killing East Huntingdon pedestrian
Jolene Cummins said her husband was excited to finally spend Christmas Eve with his family.
Having previously been on call for the holidays, Joseph Cummins had a new job and for the first time in years did not have to work. He prepared to head to church with his wife and three children after a quick run with a family dog on Dec. 24, 2016.
“He didn’t come back,” Jolene Cummins told jurors Wednesday during the first day of the trial for Matthew Ramsay, 31, of New Stanton. He is accused of causing a crash along Ruffsdale Alverton Road in East Huntingdon that killed Joseph Cummins.
Westmoreland County prosecutors contend Ramsay was under the influence of drugs when he swerved his 1995 Saturn across the two-lane road and hit Cummins as he ran off to the side of the street.
Ramsay is charged with 10 counts, including third-degree murder and vehicular homicide. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the murder charge.
“He (Joe) always followed the rules. He was cautious and always ran on the side of the road, always against traffic,” Jolene Cummins testified.
Police contend Ramsay, who had taken a dose of methadone for a heroin addiction, also had Xanax and marijuana in his system as he purposely swerved his car across the road into the oncoming lane of traffic and struck Cummins from behind.
Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan, in his opening statement to jurors, said Ramsay acted with malice as he “slalomed” across the road.
“He blindsided him,” Flanigan said. “There is no doubt there was an extreme indifference to human life.”
Prosecutors contend Ramsay fled the scene instead of helping Cummins as he lay unresponsive 10 feet off the side of the road.
Anthony Williams, Ramsay’s front-seat passenger, testified he was looking down at his telephone when the crash occurred. He told jurors he believed Ramsay had swerved to avoid a pothole. Even after the front windshield had cracked, he said he didn’t realize a pedestrian had been struck.
They drove to Ramsay’s father’s home and, after a private conversation, the three men drove together in another vehicle to a Walmart store to continue Christmas shopping, Williams testified.
Defense attorney Jim Robinson told jurors that Ramsay will not contest that he was responsible for the fatal crash, but that his actions did not constitute a charge of third-degree murder.
“This is a tragedy, and you’re not here to lynch Mr. Ramsay,” Robinson told jurors. “To my client, this was an accident he has been living with day after day.”
The trial will continue Thursday before Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .