Truck Driver Pleads To Involuntary Manslaughter, Avoids Homocide By Vehicle Criminal Charges

The Courier Times reported that the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, in exchange for a plea bargain, is withdrawing one of the criminal charges against Andrew Zeimba, a truck driver from Connecticut who was involved in a fatal accident that killed a 21-year-old woman and injured her passenger. As the Courier Times recounts:

Police say that Ziemba was behind the wheel of a Freightliner tractor-trailer traveling east on Street Road when he ran a red light at Street Road and Old Lincoln Highway on April 21, 2011. The tractor-trailer struck a BMW sedan driven by Danielle Felkner, 21, of Elmwood Avenue, fatally injuring her. A passenger in the car was also injured.

Felkner had the green light and she was attempting a left turn onto westbound Street Road when Ziemba's truck entered the intersection. Her BMW passed under the truck's trailer portion and it was struck by the rear wheels, according to police and witnesses.

We have represented numerous truck accident victims whose crashes prompted criminal prosecutions as well. Although prosecutions could be brought after a large number of truck accidents, prosecutors understandably have limited resources and so generally only do so for accidents that kill or permanently injure pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles.

In this case, Bucks County District Attorney brought both felony homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter charges against the commercial truck driver, a common practice. Now, the DA has decided to drop the homicide by vehicle charges in exchange for a guilty plea for involuntary manslaughter, which means the truck driver will face a maximum of five years in prison rather than seven years.

Why would the DA do that? For starters, under a case decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Commonwealth v. Comer, 716 A. 2d 593 (Pa. 1998), the criminal charges of homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter “merge” and so it would violate constitutional principles of double jeopardy to impose separate sentences for the two crimes. Thus, although it may seem like the prosecutors have compromised their allegations against the truck driver on the felony charge in order to obtain a guilty plea for the involuntary manslaughter charge, truth is they are getting a result that was largely compelled by law anyway.

We have seen this situation all too often, in which one life is untimely ended, another life is ruined, and families and friends bear the ripple effects, as the result of a commercial driver simply not paying attention at the wheel. According to the Courier Times, the truck driver has no criminal record and neither drugs nor alcohol were factors in the accident - the crash was simply a failure to pay close enough attention and recognize that his 10-ton Freightliner Tractor-Trailer was capable of killing others on the road at a moment’s notice.

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