Videos: Off-duty Erie officer had 13 drinks before fatal crash
Video surveillance in two McKean Township taverns captured nearly all of Cheryl A. Frey's movements in the five hours before she became involved in a fatal vehicle crash.
The videos showed Frey, an off-duty Erie police officer, drinking at least 13 alcoholic beverages over the course of the evening and struggling to walk in a straight line as she headed to her vehicle shortly after midnight on Feb. 18, 2017, state police Trooper Christopher Wingard testified Wednesday.
Jurors at Frey's trial watched segments from the videos in court as Wingard pointed out the number of times Frey ordered drinks at the bars and appeared to drink them. Wingard recovered the videos from the St. Francis Ushers Club, on Route 99, and the Valley Inn, on Old Route 99.
He also narrated the video as Frey appeared to become affectionate with a man at the Valley Inn about 40 minutes before the crash. Another man, whom Wingard identified as Frey's boyfriend, gave Frey the keys to her black Subaru Crosstrek and left on foot after seeing her interactions with the first man, Wingard said.
Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Lightner, Wingard said he believes Frey drove out of the Valley Inn's parking lot and headed north soon after. She appeared to have difficulty walking in a straight line as she headed to the parking lot, the video showed.
State police charge that as Frey drove north on Route 99, just north of the intersection with Old Route 99, her Subaru crossed into the opposing lane of traffic and struck a southbound Honda Civic driven by 57-year-old Wade A. Schulze. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, and Frey suffered serious injuries.
Wingard on Wednesday also testified about interviewing Frey at UPMC Hamot the day after the crash. She claimed in that interview that she had at least three alcoholic drinks at the Ushers Club and did not remember going to the Valley Inn.
In an audio recording of the interview, Frey sounded emotional when Wingard asked if she knew what had happened.
“Someone's dead,” she said. “That's what I know.”
Frey's lawyer, Andrew Sisinni, raised questions on cross-examination about whether Frey could have been traveling south, instead of north, at the time of the crash. Sisinni on Tuesday raised questions about whether a third driver involved in the crash, Danny C. Hamilton, might have struck Schulze's vehicle.
Jurors also heard from Trooper Jonathan Mackensen, who testified that only Frey's Subaru and Schulze's Honda were involved in the crash in the southbound lane of Route 99. The Honda was half in the lane and half over the fog line in an effort to avoid colliding with the Subaru, which was entirely in the southbound land, Mackensen testified.
Mackensen said there was “absolutely no contact” between Schulze's Honda and Hamilton's Hyundai. Instead, the trooper testified, Hamilton struck Frey's Subaru after the Subaru had already been involved in the crash with Schulze's vehicle.
The wreckage of Frey's Subaru and Schulze's Honda fit together “like puzzle pieces” when Mackensen aligned them after the crash, he said.
Frey previously pleaded guilty to a felony count of homicide by vehicle while DUI and a misdemeanor count of DUI in a plea agreement with the Erie County District Attorney's Office that dropped six other charges. Prosecutors reinstated those charges, which include aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI and involuntary manslaughter, when Frey withdrew her guilty plea at what had been scheduled to be her sentencing hearing in March.
Sisinni said at that hearing that Frey believes Schulze played a significant role in the crash.
Frey has been suspended without pay from the Erie police since she waived her preliminary hearing in the case in June 2017.