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Man to stand trial on refiled charges

| Friday, Oct. 11, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

A Bethel Park man with a history of blackouts has been held for court a second time in the traffic deaths of a pregnant woman and her mother, amid defense claims that the new charges are unconstitutional.

Deputy Coroner Timothy Uhrich on Thursday ordered Jack Monroe Smith, 51, to stand trial on two counts each of involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide in the deaths of Sherri Ann Zeis, 27, of Baldwin Borough, and her mother, Patricia Schick, 54, of West Mifflin.

The women died of injuries they suffered when Smith's car, traveling at 77 mph, slammed into their vehicle on Oct. 18, 2000, near Century III Mall in West Mifflin.

In August, Common Pleas Judge Robert E. Colville Sr. granted a defense motion to dismiss the initial charges against Smith because PennDOT had restored his driving privileges after he suffered a blackout in an April 2000 accident in Sewickley.

County prosecutors refiled the charges based on new evidence that Smith mispresented his condition to keep his driver's license.

Defense attorney William R. Bishop Jr. said yesterday he is disappointed that Uhrich didn't dismiss the new charges, contending they were identical to the ones thrown out by Colville. He said he will file a motion in Common Pleas Court asking that the charges be dismissed.

Bishop said the new charges violate the constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime. The prosecution "could be looking for another bite of the apple in front of another judge," he said. Prosecutors are "essentially trying to try a tragedy," and excuse their own failure to meet the burden of proving criminal intent.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Wholey said the new charges don't constitute double jeopardy because Smith never was tried on the first charges. He also said the prosecution will produce new evidence that Smith misrepresented his condition to retain his license and was "less than honest" with medical personnel.

The prosecution alleges that Smith knew he had a history of blackouts and seizures, and it was reckless for him to be driving.

Smith, an out-of-work salesman, remains free on bond.

Although he agreed to allow Wholey to present additional testimony to "make a record," Uhrich said he could make the decision to hold Smith for court solely on the first coroner's hearing "only because I've done it before."

Wholey offered the testimony of the defendant's brother, William Smith, 59, who said he saw Jack Smith have convulsions twice, the last when the defendant was about 10 years old.

After the accident in Sewickley, Jack Smith told relatives that it was caused when the brakes failed or the gas pedal stuck, William Smith said.

William Smith testified that after the double-fatal accident, his brother said he didn't remember what happened immediately before the crash, but never mentioned having a blackout.

"In that particular tragic accident, he didn't blame (the deaths) on the car," said William Smith, of Westmoreland County, who was subpoenaed by the prosecution to testify.

Another witness, Richard Doak, 57, a former body shop manager at Batey Chevrolet in Carnegie, testified that Smith drove a car with extensive front-end damage to the dealership in late 1994 or early 1995 for an estimate, insisting that he pay the $5,000 repair cost himself and not report it to his insurance company.

Under questioning by Smith's attorney, Doak testified that Smith didn't say what happened to the car or indicate that he was driving it when it was damaged.

In dismissing the charges earlier this year, Colville ruled that because Smith had a license, his driving didn't constitute "disregard for the safety of others that was sufficiently reckless and wanton to rise to the level of criminal culpability."

Smith has said he blacked out before four crashes in the past four years, most recently in an August crash in South Park. Smith's driver's license was suspended after that crash and he is facing charges.

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