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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LOWELL MEHAFFEY AGNEW (02/15/79)

decided: February 15, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
LOWELL MEHAFFEY AGNEW, APPELLANT



No. 83 April Term, 1978, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence Entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County, Criminal Division at No. 647 of 1976.

COUNSEL

Leonard G. Ambrose, III, Erie, for appellant.

Robert S. Bailey, Assistant District Attorney, Meadville, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Cercone, Wieand and Hoffman, JJ. Wieand, J., files a dissenting statement.

Author: Hoffman

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 426]

This case involves a motor vehicle accident in which the survivor, appellant Lowell Mehaffey Agnew, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He now appeals, contending that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. We agree that the Commonwealth has not proved the requisite mens rea for involuntary manslaughter, and, therefore, we vacate the judgment of sentence and order Agnew discharged.

Accepting as true all of the Commonwealth's evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom, the facts are as follows. At approximately 11:30 p. m. on the evening of October 4, 1975, Agnew, a farmer, had finished disking*fn1 a field owned by his father. To return home, he had to drive his tractor over Route 285 in Crawford County, Pennsylvania and pull the disk along behind him. Route 285 is a two-lane highway, 33 feet wide including the berm on either side. The road is bounded on the outside of either berm by guard rails. There is no municipal lighting in this rural stretch of the road. Agnew was aware of the characteristics of the road, having travelled it before.

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 427]

The tractor Agnew was driving was just under 11 feet wide, and was equipped with front headlights four feet apart, and front-flashing yellow lights on the top of the tractor cab. The disk was seventeen feet, four inches wide, was painted a dark green, and was not itself equipped with any lights or reflective devices. Agnew placed "Slow Moving Vehicle" signs on the tractor and the disk.

Proceeding westerly on Route 285 and approaching the intersection with McMichael Road, Agnew drove his tractor between 15 and 20 miles per hour. He saw an approaching automobile in the eastbound lane travelling about 55 miles per hour. Agnew slowed down the tractor and pulled over to the right, driving with his wheels on the berm, so that the disk was within a foot of the guard rails. The disk still encroached over the center line by one to two feet. The oncoming car was close to the center line, but never left its lane of traffic. The car never slowed down or changed its direction, although there was room for the car to pass safely. Realizing a collision was imminent, Agnew stopped the tractor, but as he did so, the car hit the outside of the disk. The car spun around several times and came to rest demolished. The driver and his passenger were killed. The disk came to rest approximately four feet into the eastbound lane.

During the course of his investigation, a State Trooper parked his car 100 feet away from the tractor and, with the aid of his headlights and the illumination of the blinking lights of the ambulance and the wrecking crew then on the scene, was able to see the tractor, but was unable to see the disk behind it. The Trooper was unable to notice anything behind the tractor until he came to within 30 or 40 feet of the tractor.

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 428]

The state of mind, or mens rea, which characterizes involuntary manslaughter is recklessness or gross negligence: a great departure from the standard of ordinary care evidencing a disregard for human life or an indifference to the possible consequences of the actor's conduct. Commonwealth Page 428} v. Polimeni, 474 Pa. 430, 442, 378 A.2d 1189, 1195 (1977); Commonwealth v. Kominsky, 240 Pa. Super. ...


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