Williams case

Not wanting to be photographed, Thomas Edward Williams, kept his back to reporters as he left the office of Magisterial District Judge David Engman on Monday.


KANE — All charges have been bound to court against a New Castle man accused of causing the Aug. 20 crash near Tack’s Inn in Lafayette Township, which injured four motorcyclists —  three severely.

Thomas Edward Williams, 61, will proceed to the McKean County Court of Common Pleas in Smethport on a felony charge of aggravated assault by vehicle with serious bodily injury and summary offenses of careless driving with serious bodily injury, failure to carry registration, operating a vehicle without required financial responsibility, duties at a stop sign, driving at safe speed, and reckless driving.

The Commonwealth contends that Williams acted recklessly on Aug. 20 as he traveled east on Route 59, failing to stop at a stop sign at the road’s intersection with U.S. Route 219 and continuing through the intersection at a high rate of speed.

While traveling through the intersection, Williams’ vehicle collided with four motorcyclists that were traveling north on Route 219 towards Olean, N.Y.

On Monday, the Commonwealth presented its case before Magisterial District Judge David Engman so that he could determine whether enough evidence was present against Williams for the case to proceed to the court of common pleas.

Kenneth Dunn was the first witness to be called by the Commonwealth; Dunn was one of the four motorcyclists that was injured in the crash.

According to Dunn’s testimony, the pack of seven motorcycles was traveling north on Route 219 at approximately 45 mph when the group came upon the intersection with Route 59. Dunn testified that a lightly-colored truck shot out in front of the group and was “rather close” to the group.

He testified the truck cleared the group but a second vehicle entered into the intersection and was “moving rather rapidly.”

Dunn testified that he could see the front end of the car was higher than the back end, which signaled to him that the car was moving very fast. He testified the driver was “gunning it” through the intersection before colliding with the motorcyclists and creating a “pile of bodies and motorcycles.”

Dunn was severely injured in the crash. Dunn testified that he suffered a broken arm, bruised ribs, lung contusions, a closed lung and a rotator cuff injury.

Dunn also testified that the lead rider, Michael Kerlin, required immediate medical attention as he was lying on the road after being thrown 40 feet from his motorcycle in the crash; according to Dunn, Kerlin was not breathing and had no pulse.

Susan Kerlin, Michael’s mother, testified to her son’s injuries.

According to Susan Kerlin, Michael Kerlin was flown by medical helicopter to Erie with a traumatic brain injury, a fractured neck, ribs that were broken out of his body, a fractured eye socket, a broken shoulder and a punctured lung.

She testified that her son coded twice and that she was told by hospital officials that they expected her son to be dead by the time he reached the hospital. Susan Kerlin testified that Michael Kerlin was in a coma for two weeks and added that he is awake now but needs to be taught how to walk, talk and eat again.

She estimated the accident has left him with five percent use of his right arm and ribs that “healed like a train wreck.”

Susan Kerlin choked up as she talked about the important moments that Michael Kerlin has missed with his young children through his extended stay in various medical facilities.

The final two motorcyclists injured in the crash, Randy Caldwell and William Ermin, also testified.

Caldwell testified seeing Williams’ car coming as a “black streak” through the intersection.

Caldwell suffered three neck fractures, a smashed wrist, a smashed ankle, three broken ribs, a brain injury, a broken left shoulder, a torn rotator cuff and a torn bicep. He estimated that he has about 10 percent use of his right arm and has had some short term memory issues and problems choosing words.

Meanwhile, Ermin testified that Williams never stopped at the stop sign, stating that “all hell broke loose,” once Williams entered into the intersection.

Ermin suffered injuries to his foot, neck and head as a result of the incident.

In addition to having testimony from these four men that were injured in the crash, the Commonwealth called upon Cpl. Kurtis Rummel of the Pennsylvania State Police to describe what led to the crash.

Rummel was identified as an accident reconstruction expert and has been given the same status in previous court proceedings in the area.

Rummel testified that Williams was responsible for the crash as he was traveling at a high rate of speed and could not have stopped at the stop sign. Using information from the vehicle’s data recorder, Rummel testified that Williams was traveling approximately 44 mph before and during the collision.

He testified that Williams was traveling 43.5 mph when the airbags were deployed, adding that the brakes were only engaged .3 seconds before impact.

Using this data and performance data available for Williams’ vehicle, Rummel testified that it was physically impossible for Williams to have stopped his car at the stop sign and to have reached the collision point at that rate of speed.

Further, Rummel testified that Williams began reacting to the motorcyclists before he came up to the stop sign. Rummel testified that it takes 1.6 seconds for a person to recognize a hazard and for that person’s brain to send a signal to the body to start reacting.

This means, that Williams likely began to react to the motorcyclists 1.9 seconds prior to the collision with the 1.6 seconds of reaction time being added to the .3 seconds that Williams had used the brakes prior to the collision.

Using this for his calculations, Rummel testified that Williams would have begun to react approximately 30 feet before the stop sign.

Rummel opined that Williams was responsible for the collision.

He testified that the roads were properly signed and that weather and road conditions played no part in the incident.

Rummel also testified that Kerlin and Caldwell, who were the first two motorcyclists to collide with the car, had no fault in the incident.

He testified the seven motorcyclists were traveling at approximately 46 mph, which would be one mph over the 45 mph speed limit.

Finally, Trooper Brandon W. Anderson testified about his interviews with Williams. According to Anderson, Williams stated that he thought the intersection was a four-way stop and that the motorcyclists would stop.

Anderson testified that Williams reported seeing the motorcyclists at a “great distance” and at a “rapid speed.”

According to Anderson, a blood sample was taken from Williams but came back negative for alcohol or controlled substances.

Following the Commonwealth’s testimony, Williams’ attorney, Matthew Mangino, asked the court to dismiss the charges, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to show how Williams had acted with negligence or recklessness.

He added the Commonwealth provided no evidence to support many of the summary offenses such as failure to carry registration.

McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Shaffer countered that the Commonwealth does not need to provide evidence of summary charges when a felony charge is also present. She added that case law shows that failure to stop at a stop sign and speeding through an intersection is considered negligent behavior.

Ultimately, Engman ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to the Court of Common Pleas.

Engman’s ruling does not determine guilt or innocence.

Williams will now be scheduled for a formal arraignment at the McKean County Court of Common Pleas. Williams remains out on $25,000 unsecured bail.