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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RONALD C. LENHART (02/01/89)

decided: February 1, 1989.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
RONALD C. LENHART, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated September 30, 1986, at No. 344 Pittsburgh 1985, affirming the judgment of sentence entered on February 22, 1985, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division, at Nos. CC8311777A & CC8312190A. 361 Pa. Super. 635; 517 A.2d 1365 (1986).

COUNSEL

Thomas J. Schuchert Vicki Kuftic Horne Thomas Schuchert & Associates, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert E. Colville, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy Dist. Atty., and Dora A. De Courcy, Asst. Dist. Atty., Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Flaherty

[ 520 Pa. Page 190]

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this appeal from judgment of sentence imposed following appellant Ronald C. Lenhart's conviction of homicide by

[ 520 Pa. Page 191]

    vehicle while driving under the influence (DUI), a violation of 75 Pa.C.S. § 3735, we confront the question of whether the trial judge improperly based his finding of guilt on inadequate proof that appellant's drunk driving caused the death of another motorist. We hold that, on the record in this case, there was insufficient evidence to prove the requisite causation beyond a reasonable doubt, and that appellant's homicide conviction must be set aside.

A fatal head-on collision occurred at 2:00 a.m. on November 19, 1983, on a two-lane highway in South Fayette Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. William Bateman, driver of the northbound vehicle, died as the result of injuries received when his car collided with the southbound vehicle driven by appellant. Appellant, injured in the accident, was taken to a hospital where a blood sample was taken; analysis disclosed a blood alcohol content of 0.21%. Mr. Bateman's blood was also analyzed, and it contained no alcohol.

There were no eyewitnesses to the accident. The police investigation was conducted by an officer who had little experience with head-on collisions, and the Commonwealth produced no evidence from an accident reconstruction expert, nor, indeed, from any expert witness whatever.

The Commonwealth developed, through photographs and the testimony of the investigating officer, that there were no skid marks, that debris from the collision was scattered equally across both lanes of travel, and that both vehicles came to rest in their respective lanes, except that the rear of appellant's vehicle overhung the center line by somewhat less than two feet. Witnesses established that appellant had been observed drinking between three and six servings of beer at a restaurant and bar during a two-hour period preceeding the accident.

Based on the investigation and the blood test, appellant was charged with five motor vehicle offenses: 1) homicide by vehicle, 75 Pa.C.S. § 3732; 2) reckless driving, 75 Pa.C.S. § 3714; 3) driving on the wrong side of the ...


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