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COMMONWEALTH v. HONEYCUTT (04/03/74)

decided: April 3, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
HONEYCUTT, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, May T., 1972, No. 59, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Nathaniel Honeycutt.

COUNSEL

B. Barclay Surrick, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

Philip J. O'Malley, Assistant District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wright, P. J., Watkins, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, Cercone, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J.

Author: Cercone

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 267]

This is an appeal from the lower court's denial of motions in arrest of judgment or for a new trial in an involuntary manslaughter case raising primarily the question of whether the trial court erred in permitting a witness to testify as to the defendant's manner of driving prior to a violent rear-end collision between defendant's car and the car of the deceased, Alvin Wilkins. The defendant, Nathaniel Honeycutt, was tried and convicted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant's theory is that the testimony of a Mrs. Wright was irrelevant because her observations of his operation of his vehicle related to a distance too remote from the scene of the accident to have sufficient probative value to outweigh the prejudice created in the minds of the jury.

The particular facts of this case are as follows: At approximately 2:00 a.m. on December 19, 1971, Mrs. Wright was returning from her mother's house on U. S. Route 1, a four-lane divided highway which runs eastwest in a rural area of Delaware County. While traveling in an easterly direction at approximately 55 m.p.h., the speed limit on this highway, she was passing an automobile when two cars came upon her very quickly and "tailgated" her vehicle until she was far enough beyond the car she had passed to safely return to the right lane. One of these cars was driven by the defendant Honeycutt and the other by an Eric Barren. At

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 268]

    this point both of these vehicles which had been pressing her from behind sped past her at a speed she estimated to be 70 m.p.h. and increasing. As soon as the second car passed her it cut sharply back into the right lane. It was this second car which Honeycutt was driving.*fn1 The Honeycutt and Barren cars continued up the highway side by side accelerating all the while. In seconds they were out of sight. All of this took place one to one and one-half miles west of the scene of the fatal accident in which the deceased, Mr. Wilkins, also driving his vehicle in an easterly direction, was killed.

Moments later, when Mrs. Wright came upon the scene, dust was still in the air on the curve on which the collision occurred. Although she did not see the deceased's vehicle, she did see the two vehicles which had passed her and which, as a result of the accident, were now facing in the opposite westerly direction. After stopping and ascertaining that no one was injured in the Honeycutt and Barren cars, Mrs. Wright left the scene and contacted the state police. Neither Honeycutt

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 269]

    nor Barren nor any of their passengers apprised Mrs. Wright of the fact that the Wilkins car had also been involved in the accident.

The police soon arrived and found the deceased's car approximately 110 feet west of Honeycutt's vehicle and impacted on a guard rail. They discovered the deceased underneath the car with his arm wedged between the drive shaft and the frame. The death was caused by massive internal injuries which were attended by numerous and severe lacerations and abrasions, most of which apparently occurred when the victim was thrown from and dragged by his car. While the ignition switch was in the "on" position, the engine was no longer running, and most of the damage to the car was done to the left rear and left side. The victim's car had also been turned 180 degrees by the collision. On the other hand, Honeycutt's vehicle was primarily damaged in the right front. Paint samples taken from both cars demonstrated that they had indeed collided. Although the Barren car did not collide with either the Honeycutt or Wilkins car, ...


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