This case is about a car accident involving three vehicles that happened at the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Silver Lane in Levittown. The defendants were indicted and charged with manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide on alternative theories of individual and accomplice liability.
The accident happened on January 31, 1983, around 11:00 P.M. wherein the Chevrolet Nova of the victim, which was turning left from the westbound turning lane of Hempstead Turnpike across the eastbound lanes thereof into Silver Lane, was struck by two cars rapidly approaching in the eastbound lanes of the Hempstead Turnpike. The Staten island car in the eastbound center lane, a blue Pontiac Trans Am, separated from the collision, skidded to the south curb and flipped over. The car in the eastbound left lane, a red Camaro, dragged the Nova further east down Hempstead Turnpike until they both came to a stop near the south curb. The Queens driver of the Chevrolet Nova died instantly from skull fractures and intracranial hemorrhage. The defendant-driver of the blue Trans Am was removed unconscious from his car with trauma injuries. The defendant-driver of the Camaro and his passenger sustained only minor cuts.
The prosecution introduced at trial the defendant-driver of the Camaro and moved that the case be tried before two juries, one for each defendant. The trial court granted the said motion and impaneled two juries. The members of each jury were given labels to wear designating which defendant’s fate they were considering. They were instructed by the trial court not to communicate with the members of the other defendant’s jury, and not to speculate about the reason for the presence in the courtroom at times of only one of the two juries. Opening statements were made to each jury separately and then both juries were brought into the courtroom to hear the testimony. During the introduction of the inculpatory statements of the defendant-diver Camaro, only his jury remained in the courtroom while the other defendant’s jury was excluded. Separate summations were delivered to each jury and, without objection, the court gave one charge to both juries, omitting any mention of the inculpatory statements.
Both defendant-drivers denied that they knew one another prior to the car accident. Each, however, admitted that he had noticed the other car and driver as they were stopped side by side at a stoplight .4 of a mile west of the accident site. Each denied exchanging any words or signals with the other. Defendant-driver of the Camaro testified that he proceeded first when the light changed and accelerated to “a little over 40, tops” when suddenly a car turned directly in front of him. He stated that he braked and turned his wheel to the left but that it was too late to avoid the collision and his Camaro hit the right rear of the Nova, rotating the Nova in a clockwise direction into the path of the Trans Am.”
On the other hand, the prosecution presented an eyewitness, which testified inter alia that the two vehicles were drag racing on the said street before the impact. Three accident reconstruction experts and their testimonies were also presented. These experts estimate the pre-impact speed of the Trans Am and Camaro ranged from 70 to 90 miles per hour, while the Nova’s speed was estimated at 15 to 20 miles per hour as it made its turn. Based on their calculations and observations, it was the opinion of these experts that if the eastbound cars had been travelling at 40 or 50 miles per hour, they would have passed behind the Nova and the collision would not have occurred.
The court held that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the verdicts of both juries finding both defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that the verdicts are not against the weight of the evidence. The evidence in this case of excessive speed coupled with the circumstances under which the incident occurred, at night on a well-travelled highway where traffic is restricted to a moderate speed, the two cars speeding side by side and hitting a turning vehicle without any braking or evasive action, sufficed to sustain the prosecution’s burden of proof.
The court also held that the dual jury procedure was carefully planned and fully explained to the juries, the defendants and their counsel. The plan was strictly adhered to, and no problems arose during the trial. Despite the assertion on appeal that the simultaneous charge to both juries here was prejudicial and confusing, there was no objection from either defendant on that basis prior to deliberations and any error in that respect is therefore unpreserved for review. In any event, the court found neither error nor prejudice in the simultaneous charge.
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