Bennett fights DUI as cause of pedestrian deaths
BY STACI WILSON
The man who earlier this month admitted to running down two pedestrians with his truck last year in New Milford was back in court Wednesday morning.
Brett Bennett, 41, Kingsley pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of Brian Thomas and Edwin Turner III on Feb. 25, 2012.
Bennett admitted that he was driving about 80 mph in a 35 mph speed zone when he struck and killed the two men as they were crossing State Route 11 just after 2 a.m.
But Bennett, who was also charged with driving under the influence, elected to go to trial on that count.
At the March 1 plea hearing, the DUI count was separated from the manslaughter case.
The DUI trial is being heard by President Judge Kenneth Seamans.
Witnesses for the prosecution Wednesday included three law enforcement officers that responded to the scene.
Montrose Patrolman Laura Watson said she had been dispatched to the scene while on duty in the borough of Montrose.
The Montrose Police Department also provides police coverage in New Milford Borough.
Watson said emergency responders were already on the scene when she arrived and a witness directed her to Bennett.
The officer described the accident scene on the stand, saying she had to step over body parts to get to Bennett.
She testified that Bennett said to her, “You don’t understand, Officer. You don’t understand what I did.”
Watson said Bennett was placed in the back of her police vehicle and she detected a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.
Watson testified that Bennett told her he had been at a bar in New York and also in Hallstead prior to the crash.
She also said she did not conduct a field sobriety test on Bennett at the scene.
Watson also escorted Bennett to an ambulance because emergency responders requested to examine him.
State Police Trooper Robert Bauman also took the stand. Bauman served as the lead investigator on the case.
He told the court he, and State Police Trooper Michael Lohman, arrived on the scene when Bennett was in the ambulance.
After surveying the scene and speaking with witnesses, Bauman said he interviewed Bennett inside the ambulance.
Bauman said Bennett told him he had consumed one beer at a bar in Hallstead, about seven miles north of the scene, prior to the crash.
The trooper told the court that he did not perform a field sobriety test on Bennett, a point that was hammered on by Defense Attorney Paul Walker.
Bauman said that since Bennett was under the care of ambulance personnel, he did not ask him to participate in the field testing.
Bauman did report that Bennett exhibited signs of intoxication and said, “My opinion is he was not capable of safe driving based on my observation of him and what I saw at the scene.”
Tpr. Lohman testified that he followed the ambulance to Community Medical Center, Scranton – about a 45 minute drive from New Milford.
A blood sample for the purpose of blood alcohol testing was drawn at 4:36 a.m.
That sample was sent for testing to the Pennsylvania State Police Wyoming Regional Laboratory.
On the stand crime lab expert, forensic scientist William Kupstas detailed the process of BAC testing.
Attorney Walker asked if the handling of the specimen without refrigeration by a freight company could affect the sample.
Kupstas said, “As long as the grey top tube is intact, studies show the worse thing that can happen is that you lose some of the blood alcohol content.”
According to court documents, Bennett’s blood alcohol level was .148 percent.
Following the expert testimony, Legg presented no other witnesses.
Walker said he expected Bennett and a medical doctor to provide testimony for the defense.
The bench trial will reconvene on April 4.
Bennett was scheduled to be sentenced on the involuntary manslaughter counts on March 21. That hearing has been continued.