SMETHPORT — The attorney accused of causing a man’s death in a car crash in September 2018 has filed a motion asking that District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer be disqualified from prosecuting him, alleging the timing of his prosecution was for her political gain in the primary election.
Marc W. Nuzzo, 42, formerly of Kane, is facing charges including homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault by vehicle for a crash on U.S. Route 219 near Mead Run on Sept. 5, 2018.
The crash claimed the life of Stanley “Guy” Austin and injured several passengers in Austin’s vehicle.
McKean County President Judge John Pavlock and Judge Christopher G. Hauser have both recused themselves from the case due to potential conflicts of interest. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has assigned Senior Judge John Leete of Potter County to hear the case.
In a motion filed earlier this month by Nuzzo’s attorneys, James P. Miller and Christopher Martini, the defense is asking Leete to disquality Shaffer, and to refer the case to the state attorney general’s office for prosecution.
While the crash happened Sept. 5, the charges in the case were filed March 28, “in the middle of a heated race for McKean County District Attorney,” the motion read.
Shaffer appeared at the preliminary arraignment for Nuzzo, which was held at 11:21 p.m. in the office of District Judge Bill Todd in Smethport. Members of Austin’s family and members of the media were present at the hearing as well, the attorneys noted in the motion.
At the hearing, Shaffer argued “improperly (a) the alleged strength of the evidence against the defendant, (b) the potential exposure if the defendent was convicted, and © about an alleged incident earlier in the day where the defendant was purportedly driving in an erratic manner,” the motion stated.
The comments “circumvented (Nuzzo’s) right to a fair criminal process and were an attempt by (Shaffer) to bolster her political position weeks before a hotly contested primary election,” the motion stated.
In her response, Shaffer said the motion should be dismissed without hearing, as it is “not proper and is not supported by any caselaw cited by defense counsel.”
She continued, “Defense counsel cannot ‘select his prosecutor,’ and said he is attempting to silence the prosecution “by alleging impropriety simply because victims, media or other spectators who are present at public hearings will hear the arguments made by counsel; testimony of any witnesses; and rulings of judges is obvious.”
In turn, she accused Miller and Martini of filing “documents likely to create public intrigue that can, then, justify the change of venue/venire the defense counsel seeks,” the response stated.
Shaffer argued that the defense didn’t take into consideration the fact that two cases involving death and serious injuries happened within days of each other, and were long and complicated investigations.
“Defense counsel seems to imply that a defendant should not be charged with a crime during an election cycle,” the response noted.
A hearing on motions filed in the case has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 11 in McKean County Court.
Nuzzo, currently of Wilkes Barre, is charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, three counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, six counts of recklessly endangering another person and numerous traffic summaries. He remains free on $100,000 percentage bail.
According to the criminal complaint, at 8:37 p.m. Sept. 5, on U.S. Route 219 near the intersection with Mead Run Road, a Jeep Compass driven by Nuzzo was traveling south on Route 219 when it crossed the double-yellow line and accelerated, attempting to pass a tractor-trailer that was also traveling south.
When Nuzzo’s vehicle was in the northbound lane, it struck head-on a northbound Ford Escape driven by Austin and containing five passengers — Bonnie Austin, Laura Johnson, Montana Moore, Lacy Austin and Lynsey Brown, the criminal complaint stated.
After the impact, the Escape caught fire. Police reports from the time of the crash said passing motorists stopped and helped the people out of the burning SUV.
Austin and two other occupants in the Escape had serious injuries. Nuzzo was injured as well, police said.
Three witnesses at the crash scene were interviewed by troopers, and all confirmed that Nuzzo’s SUV caused the crash, the complaint stated.
Pennsylvania State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction specialists investigated the crash. They determined Nuzzo’s SUV had crossed the double-yellow line, accelerated and caused the collision, the criminal complaint read.
Austin, 53, died Sept. 20, 2018, at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y., from injuries sustained in the crash.