Conviction of trucker sets legal precedent on drowsy driving

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 9/27/2013

With his appeals exhausted, a New York trucker will do time after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide in a 2010 crash in Pennsylvania that killed another trucker.

Richard Pedota, 50, of Woodside, N.Y., had attempted to get the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene in his case. But the state’s highest court refused to hear the case, essentially affirming Pedota’s initial conviction. Pedota’s sentence is for two to four years.

On Sept. 2, 2010, Pedota’s 18-wheeler drifted onto the shoulder of eastbound I-78 in Lower Saucon Township, Pa., where it hit and killed Mario Chacon, 52, of Palmer Township, Pa. According to reports and testimony in the case, Chacon was lawfully pulled over on the side of the road.

The case is also significant in that it establishes future legal precedent for all drivers in Pennsylvania, that driving while drowsy has become sufficient evidence for prosecutors to secure a conviction under the state’s criminal and vehicle codes, according to Northampton County Assistant District Attorney Richard Pepper.

“This case has finally answered the question of whether falling asleep behind the wheel or more specifically continuing to operate a vehicle on Pennsylvania highways in the face of known drowsiness or falling asleep is sufficient factual evidence to satisfy the standard of criminal recklessness or gross negligence under the crimes code of involuntary manslaughter, and under the vehicle code of homicide by vehicle,” Pepper told Land Line.

Pepper said Pedota had done a run from New Jersey to Harrisburg, and was returning to New Jersey on the morning of Sept. 2, 2010. According to Pepper, Pedota was driving in a legal manner beforehand and was not speeding, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or on the road an excessive period of time.

In February, Pedota’s conviction was affirmed by the Superior Court, and his bid for re-argument was later rejected. On Aug. 29, the state Supreme Court denied Pedota’s request that it hear his appeal.

Pedota remains free. Pepper said he expects the court will soon schedule a hearing on the case, or issue an order requiring Pedota to report to prison.

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