Homicide trial over crash to continue
Coatesville man accused of malice in collision that killed local teacher in 2019
LEWISTOWN — A jury is tasked this week with determining whether Stuart Wayne Bryant had malicious intent related to the crash in January 2019 that killed Mifflin County Junior High School teacher and coach, Harry Aultz.
The jury on Tuesday heard testimony from two expert witnesses and 14 others who said they saw a vehicle that fit the description of the one Bryant was driving the night of the accident to be driving erratically in various locations in Mifflin County.
The jury trial will determine whether Bryant, 61, of Coatesville, is guilty of charges of murder of the third degree, a first-degree felony; homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, a second-degree felony; homicide by vehicle, a third-degree felony; involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor; and more than a dozen related criminal and traffic offenses.
Mifflin County District Attorney Christopher Torquato explained that the charge really in question will be the third-degree murder. The trial is currently slated to span several days.
In this case, in order to prove whether Bryant is guilty of third-degree murder, he must prove that he acted with malice.
Bryant’s attorney, Timothy Barrouk, of Harrisburg-based law firm The McShane Firm said he felt the jury would find that third-degree murder charge is a “reach.”
“Malice is much more than gross negligence,” he said. Third degree murder, “would be the equivalent of pointing a loaded gun into a crowd and pulling the trigger.”
“He committed a crime, there’s no doubt about it,” but his attorney questioned whether there was malicious intent.
“The facts of this case aren’t that much in dispute,” he said.
Dr. Kevin Whaley, board certified forensic pathologist, testified that he was referred to conduct an autopsy on Aultz.
Whaley stated that Aultz sustained multiple lethal injuries, most notably rib fractures on both sides.
Dr. Greg Swartzentruber, toxicologist specialist with UPMC Pinnacle, testified as an expert witness regarding Bryant’s blood-alcohol level, which was he stated was .212 percent when it was tested around 11 p.m. the night of the crash, Jan. 28, 2019.
Swartzentruber said this would equate to a blood alcohol level of about .283 percent at the time of the crash, around 6:45 p.m.
At that level, Swartzentruber testified, Bryant’s response time, sensory abilities, perception and judgement would have been very negatively affected.
Swartzentruber continued, stating that delayed response time and impaired decision-making ability begins at about .05 to .1 percent.
“I do not believe the defendant could safely operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .283,” he said.
During cross examination, Barrouck questioned whether some individuals with a higher tolerance to alcohol might not be affected as heavily by alcohol.
He also noted that Barrouck did not interview anyone who indicated that Bryant at any point slurred his speech or acted in an intoxicated manner.
Swartzentruber said, “At a level of .283 (percent), it is unlikely that he would not show signs of impairment.”
Witness Beth Harlon testified that she believes she came in contact with Bryant at about 6:15 p.m. on the day of the incident when she was on her way from Burnham to Lewistown via the U.S. 322 ramp heading eastbound.
She said a black vehicle passed her at a high rate of speed on the one-lane ramp. She then saw the vehicle try to pass two other vehicles, then stop in the right-hand lane of Route 322.
Andrea Hannon testified that she was driving on West Fourth Street, Lewistown, toward Strodes Mills when she passed a black vehicle on the right-hand side of the on ramp of U.S. 22/522, slightly off the lane of travel.
When she passed in front of the vehicle, she said she watched the car in the rear view mirror approach her vehicle “very rapidly. I thought it was going to hit me.”
She said the vehicle followed her toward Strodes Mills, then made a sharp left at the West Granville Fire Company, turning across three lanes of traffic.
Dana Hill testified that she and her husband, Brian, were turning right toward McVeytown on Route 522 when a four-door Dodge that was in front of them made a sharp left turn across the three-lane highway without signaling and reversed its course of direction, going back toward Lewistown.
Brian Hill testified that if he hadn’t hit the brakes, the vehicles would have collided.
Witness Steve Yocum testified that he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his son, Hunter, Yocum, headed toward to intersection at Industrial Park Road toward Walmart, when a black Dodge Charger “came out of nowhere” between their vehicle and the median at a high rate of speed.
Steve Yocum said he watched the Dodge Charger collide with a different vehicle, carrying two females, in front of them.
Hunter Yocum testified that the Dodge Charger was driving “ridiculously fast” and was headed toward Lewistown. He said the Charger pushed the vehicle carrying the females off the road.
“It just missed an embankment. If it would have it, it would have hit the car,” Hunter Yocum said.
Morgan Eichorn testified that she and her sister, Madelyn, were on their way to cheerleading practice on the highway above Walmart when a vehicle collided with theirs at the Industrial Park Road intersection, then passed them. She said she was unable to drive the vehicle away from the scene.
Another witness who was driving toward Strodes Mills around the same time said she saw a vehicle driving “extra fast” and “pieces of the car hanging off” with no tail lights.
“It was loud … it went flying past me,” she said.
The witness also said she saw the crash and stopped to ask the Eichorns if they were OK.
Matthew Stringfellow testified that he was in the Walmart parking lot loading groceries when he heard a loud engine coming from the direction of McDonald’s and saw what he believed to be a black Dodge Charger head toward Tractor Supply.
“There were sparks under the vehicle,” he said.
Stringfellow then said he heard a crash and saw car parts scattered on the road when he got to the scene.
Tasha Hoffman, who was with Stringfellow during the time of the crash, stated that the vehicle had no headlights and that the vehicle had parts dragging on the road.
After the crash, “it looked like a war,” she said.
Harrison Walker, who was also with Stringfellow and Hoffman during the time of the crash, estimated that the vehicle was traveling about twice the speed limit.
When the crash occurred, “it sounded like an explosion” at the intersection of Business 22 and Hoss Drive, he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Another witness, who was positioned in the lefthand turn lane behind the pickup truck Aultz was in just before the crash, stated that when the light turned green, the pickup was making a left turn and was stuck.
The Dodge Charger came to rest so close to her, she said that she thought her vehicle had been hit as well.
“If my window was down, I think I could have touched his car with my hand,” the witness stated.
The witness stated that the vehicle was traveling toward Snappy’s when it struck the median, causing the vehicle to change direction and to collide with the pickup truck.
President Judge David Barron is overseeing the trial, which is slated to continue at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown.
Bryant is currently jailed at Mifflin County Correctional Facility without bail.