Dismissal of Hit-and-Run Charge against Indiana County Man Affirmed
Peirce, Paul, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
An appellate court has refused to reinstate criminal charges against an Indiana County man accused of striking and killing bicyclist Sean Pearce in 2005.
In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Indiana Judge Gregory Olson's 2007 dismissal of charges filed by state police of failing to render aid at an accident scene involving death and failing to notify police of an accident against Gregory T. Wisneski Jr., 24, a White Township auto mechanic.
Wisneski was charged 14 months after the hit-and-run on July 15, 2005, that killed Pearce, 29, of Burrell Township, Indiana County. The accident occurred some time after 2 a.m. along Route 119, north of Blairsville.
"The Commonwealth ... thus has the burden of establishing (Wisneski) was involved in an accident 'resulting in' death or had the consequence, effect, or conclusion of, injury or death. The Commonwealth conceded that it cannot establish when Mr. Pearce died or that Mr. Pearce was alive when (Wisneski) drove through the accident scene," senior judges James J. Fitzgerald III and Zoran Popovich said in a seven-page memorandum.
"Because the Commonwealth cannot establish that (Wisneski) was in an accident resulting in, or having the consequence, effect, or conclusion of Mr. Pearce's injury or death, it follows that the Commonwealth cannot satisfy its burden of proof," the judges ruled.
Former Indiana District Attorney Robert Bell filed the initial appeal in 2007. It has been pursued by his successor, District Attorney Tom Bianco.
Bianco said it will be up to Pearce's family to determine whether an appeal should be filed before state Supreme Court or the entire panel of Superior Court.
"Naturally, there is some disappointment with the decision, but there is a glimmer of hope because it was a 2-1 decision with Judge Richard B. Klein dissenting. I just turned over the opinion to the Pearce family earlier this week to review, and we'll be meeting again next week to make a formal decision. But I expect we will file an appeal," Bianco said.
Klein disagreed with the majority's interpretation.
"The key part of the 'involve' noted by the majority from the 1971 edition of Webster's Dictionary is that one be 'a participant. …