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Driver held for trial in 5-car, fatal accident

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 4:32 a.m.

An Irwin man testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing that he witnessed the accident that caused the death of Thomas Kelly in September on a section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Penn Township.

At the time of the accident, Rich Carlson said he was going west on the turnpike toward Pittsburgh.

"The next thing I could see was a car coming through the median strip...and it struck the car in front of me," he said.

State police at Gibsonia, Allegheny County, allege that Isaac McCant III, 34, of Pittsburgh's Lincoln-Larimer section, was the driver of the car that left the eastbound lanes, crossed the median and struck the westbound vehicle operated by Kelly. In all, five cars were involved in the accident, which occurred shortly before 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, police said.

After testimony from Carlson and Trooper David Nicgorski, Senior District Justice Frank Del Bene Jr. held McCant for trial on charges of homicide by vehicle, accident involving death or personal injury while the operator isn't properly licensed, recklessly endangering another person, giving false identification to authorities and summary offenses. Del Bene dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge and two drug offenses.

McCant faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on the felony offense of homicide by vehicle, said

Allen Powanda, Westmoreland County first assistant district attorney, who prosecuted McCant yesterday.

The drug offenses, which were dismissed because they had no real bearing in the death, could be refiled later, Powanda said. Police allege they found a small amount of marijuana and 11 pills, including some pain relievers, in the car McCant was driving.

The hearing resumed yesterday after five witnesses testified Nov. 20. Del Bene delayed the rest of testimony until yesterday after it was discovered last week that a report to be used as evidence lacked the signatures of those involved in Kelly's Sept. 28 autopsy. Kelly, who was pronounced dead at an Allegheny County hospital, died because of blunt force trauma, according to a report.

At last week's hearing, witnesses testified that McCant turned from the slow to the passing lane of the turnpike while he was heading east toward Irwin. In the passing lane, the 1991 Oldsmobile McCant was driving struck a 2000 Ford Taurus operated by Margarete Jacob, of Monroeville, Allegheny County.

McCant then headed toward a break in the median that divided the east and westbound lanes, witnesses said. At the break — a designated turnaround area for emergency vehicles — McCant's vehicle struck Kelly's automobile in the westbound passing lane, witnesses said.

At yesterday's session, Carlson said his car struck Kelly's car after it was hit by McCant's vehicle.

Nicgorski, who also testified Nov. 20, said yesterday that he asked McCant for his name at the accident scene.

"He responded, 'Marvin Ward,'" the arresting officer remembered, adding that McCant also gave him a birth date and said he didn't have a Pennsylvania driver's license.

McCant then was taken to UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood for treatment of a head wound, Nicgorski said.

After the accident, the trooper researched driving and other records for Marvin Ward.

"Everything came up negative," Nicgorski said.

Later, Nicgorski learned McCant's name, and he and other troopers questioned him Oct. 30 at the Lincoln-Larimer home of Sheila M. Ward, who police said owns the vehicle McCant was driving Sept. 27.

"He admitted being the operator of the vehicle in question <#201> (and) he confessed in his statements that he conspired with Miss Ward to supply us with false information," Nicgorski said.

Police have charged Sheila Ward, 38, of 6429 Winslow St., with hindering apprehension or prosecution, and conspiracy. Her preliminary hearing on those charges is scheduled for Dec. 3 in Harrison City.

McCant — who police said is also known by the name of Derick Watley, as well as "numerous others" — also gave Nicgorski an explanation for the accident during the October interview.

"He said he was lost on the turnpike, and he was considering going over at the median, when he saw the signs saying it was prohibited," the trooper said. "He decided not to do it, and it was at that moment he was hit from behind and pushed through the median."

McCant was returned to the Westmoreland County Prison after failing to post $150,000 bail.

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