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Man faces trial for vehicular homicide

| Thursday, May 2, 2002

A Connellsville man will stand trial on numerous charges following a two-vehicle collision in late February that claimed the life of another city resident.

Connellsville District Justice Ronald Haggerty Sr. held to court all charges that Connellsville Police Sgt. Michael Parlak filed against Charles E. LaPorte, 71, of 211 Frisbee Circle. The charges include homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and driving under the influence. The accident occurred at 4:08 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the intersection of Morrell Avenue (Route 119) and Duke Street.

Killed in the collision was Carla Jean Primus, 39, of South 12th Street, who was a front-seat passenger in the vehicle driven by her husband, Jeffrey.

Police report that Jeffrey Primus was northbound in the left lane of Morrell Avenue attempting to turn onto Duke Street. LaPorte was traveling northbound on Morrell Avenue in the right lane when he traveled into the left lane, rear-ending Jeffrey Primus' vehicle, and causing it to travel forward and hit a telephone pole.

Connellsville City Fireman Dennis Petrowski, questioned by Assistant District Attorney Mark Brooks, testified that he was stopped at the intersection of Duke Street and Morrell Avenue at the time of the accident. He said he glanced to his right and saw Primus' vehicle waiting to make a left turn. Glancing again to his right, Petrowski observed a black-colored vehicle, later determined to be a F-150 pick-up truck operated by LaPorte, move from the right lane into the left lane and hit Primus' vehicle.

"When I glanced to my right, I saw a vehicle come from the slow (right) lane into the passing lane. At that point, it was a pretty violent collision," Petrowski testified.

Following the collision, LaPorte allegedly continued along Morrell Avenue before his vehicle stopped at Leisenring Avenue where he was found by police.

Petrowski and his wife were driving home from work. He said the force of the collision caused Primus' vehicle to spin around 180 degrees.

Police allege that LaPorte had a blood alcohol content of .14 percent; the legal limit in Pennsylvania is .08 percent.

LaPorte sat next to his attorney, Thomas Bowlen of Connellsville, during the hearing. Seated across from him were family members. Also present were Jeffrey Primus, who did not testify, and his attorney, Richard Rosenthal of Pittsburgh.

Parlak, questioned by Brooks, testified that he arrived at the scene seven minutes after the accident occurred. Parlak said Jeffrey Primus' Pontiac Grand Am had come to rest in the yard of 832 Morrell Ave., facing south. Debris littered the yard and both lanes of the highway.

LaPorte's vehicle was located by police on Leisenring Avenue with LaPorte seated inside. Parlak said the vehicle shut itself down and coasted down the road.

As Parlak spoke with LaPorte at the station, he said he observed that LaPorte smelled like alcohol and had glassy, watery eyes and slightly slurred speech.

Parlak said he believed LaPorte was under the influence of alcohol and asked LaPorte to perform field sobriety tests: one leg stand and walk and turn. LaPorte attempted these but told Parlak he had severe arthritis and could not do the test.

Parlak testified that LaPorte was placed under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Blood was drawn at the laboratory at Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant at 5:23 p.m. The analysis was done by the state police crime laboratory in Greensburg.

Bowlen questioned why his client was not taken to Highlands Hospital in Connellsville. Parlak stated that Highlands Hospital, as were other Fayette County hospitals, was out of the kits needed for the blood withdrawal.

Parlak said LaPorte did admit to consuming alcohol prior to the accident. He also said that LaPorte was traveling 52 to 57 mph in the posted 35 mph zone as determined by state police accident reconstructionist Cpl. Joseph D'Andrea.

LaPorte told Parlak that he changed lanes because he had been cut off by another vehicle and he then collided into the rear of the Primus vehicle.

Bowlen entered a not guilty plea on behalf of LaPorte. Haggerty continued to allow LaPorte to remain free on a $50,000 recognizance bond.

Rosenthal, speaking on behalf of Jeffrey Primus who did not comment, told reporters, "This is a tragedy. A continuing tragedy that unfortunately did not have to occur."

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