Modified: November 5, 2015 10:42am
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita, III announces that the driver of the automobile in the tragedy which occurred this Spring in Delaware Park cannot be prosecuted for a crime. Instead, he will likely be charged with a Vehicle and Traffic Law infraction by the Buffalo Police Department.
On May 30, 2015 at approximately 11:28am, a motor vehicle veered off Route 198, aka the Scajaquada Expressway, onto the Delaware Park Ring Road, striking and seriously injuring five year-old Stephanie Sugarovsky as well as striking and fatally injuring three year-old Maksym Sugarovsky. An exhaustive investigation, undertaken by the Buffalo Police Department, with the assistance of this office, revealed the following:
- The driver had not engaged in any reckless driving, as that term is defined by law, before veering off Route 198: he obeyed all traffic control devices, having stopped at the Parkside Ave red light; he did not weave in-and-out of traffic when the light permitted his vehicle to proceed; and, he did not violate the posted speed limit.
- The driver likely fell asleep behind the wheel, causing him to lose control of his vehicle. This conclusion is supported by the accident reconstruction.
- The driver did not attempt to leave the scene of the accident. Instead, he immediately attempted to notify the authorities but was prevented from doing so when others in the park began beating him.
- The driver was fully cooperative in the investigation: he voluntarily submitted to an examination by a drug recognition expert (DRE); he voluntarily provided samples of his blood for forensic testing; he agreed to be questioned and made a statement to the police investigators; and, he signed releases for all his medical records.
- The DRE determined that the driver was not impaired by any drug, opining that his condition was “medical.” This finding is corroborated by extensive toxicological testing which revealed the driver was not under the influence of any illicit substances or alcohol at the time of the accident.
- Toxicological testing further revealed the presence of a legally prescribed medication in the “low therapeutic range.” This means that the driver was neither intoxicated nor impaired, as those terms are defined by law, at the time of the accident.
- The driver was lawfully licensed to operate a motor vehicle at the time of the accident. Moreover, he did not make any false representations nor did he unlawfully fail to disclose required medical conditions to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Based on all of the facts, the driver’s conduct does not rise to the level of a crime under either the New York State Penal Law or New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law. At most, he can be charged with a violation of §1128 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
DA Sedita stated the following:
Sadly and to my deep personal frustration, there are tragic episodes, often of profoundly devastating dimension, which my office, despite its power, cannot prosecute. That is because prosecutors are empowered to contend with only a narrow scope of society's ills, wrongs, and tragedies. We come to realize that we may not use the power to prosecute for everything that saddens or angers. Instead, we may use the power to prosecute only when we can prove someone committed a crime.
A “crime” is shorthand for a statutorily defined criminal offense. Criminal statutes are divided into elements of proof. Under New York Law, a case can be prosecuted only when it is both legally sufficient (all of the statute’s required elements are satisfied) and factually sufficient (with credible evidence that’s admissible in court).
For example, when a statute, like Vehicular Manslaughter, requires proof the defendant was driving and proof the defendant was intoxicated, the prosecution must prove both elements. Evidence proving the suspect was driving but not intoxicated renders the case legally and factually insufficient and bars a prosecution.
Horrific consequences as the result of an automobile accident might be the basis for a legal action in a civil courtroom. One cannot, however, be criminally prosecuted in a criminal courtroom unless there is actual proof that a crime -- a statutorily defined criminal offense -- was committed. There is no such proof in this tragic case and therefore there cannot be a criminal prosecution.