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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Richard Simmen

December 11, 2012


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence October 14, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0001150-2011

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stevens, P.J.




This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County after Appellant Richard Simmen was convicted of Driving under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI)*fn1 and Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Vehicle or Property.*fn2 Appellant challenges the trial court's denial of his suppression motion. We affirm.

The trial court aptly summarized the factual background of this case as follows:

In the early morning hours of December 18, 2010, Officer Christian Guzzo of the McCandless Township Police Department responded to a call involving a motor vehicle accident at 8510 Winchester Drive, the home of Michael Hespelein. According to Mr. Hespelein, he heard a very loud crashing sound and, upon looking out the window, saw a dark object in his driveway and front yard. After going downstairs to get a better look, he realized the object was a car. Within three (3) minutes of hearing the crashing sound, Mr. Hespelein called 911 to report the accident. As he was on the phone with 911 and in the process of getting dressed to go outside, the car started, and the driver left the scene. Mr. Hespelein went outside to survey the damage done by the accident, observing that the retaining wall in his front yard had been knocked over, the railing on the stairway had been struck, and his mailbox had been knocked over. He also noticed that there were car parts scattered on his lawn.

Officer Christian Guzzo, a police officer with the Township of McCandless, arrived less than five minutes after Mr. Hespelein's 911 call, at approximately 1:10 a.m. In addition to the damage described by Mr. Hespelein, Officer Guzzo noted a dark red burgundy bumper in the driveway and tire tracks from a neighbor's yard, leading into Mr. Hespelein's retaining wall. He further noted that, although there was snow in the grassy areas, the roads were dry, and there was no precipitation.

After examining the bumper, Officer Guzzo observed tire marks coming out of Mr. Hespelein's driveway where the vehicle had left, as well as a trail of fluid in the center of the tire tracks. Officer Guzzo was able to follow the fluid trail in his patrol car. The trail ended in a driveway at 8465 Coventry Drive, a location approximately 1½ to two (2) miles from the Hespelein residence, in McCandless Township. The driveway of the Coventry Drive address was perpendicular to the street, and proceeded at a length of forty (40) to fifty (50) feet to the front of the home located at that address, where it ended in a garage. As Officer Guzzo observed the trail of fluid as it proceeded into the driveway, he also noted a burgundy-colored car in the driveway, approximately twenty (20) feet from the road. Officer Guzzo arrived at this location at 1:26 a.m., approximately fifteen (15) minutes after he had initially responded to the call at Winchester Drive.

Officer Guzzo walked up the driveway to attempt to contact the owner of the vehicle. As he did so, he observed that the burgundy car was leaking fluid from its front end and was missing a front bumper. The bumper missing from the vehicle in the driveway was consistent with the bumper that he had observed at the home of Mr. Hespelein. Officer Guzzo also saw that the driver's side airbag in the burgundy vehicle had been deployed.

Officer Guzzo approached the front door of the house at 8465 Coventry Drive and knocked several times on two (2) occasions before the door was opened by Carly Simmen. Officer Guzzo requested that Ms. Simmen put on a pair of shoes and exit the house to speak to him. At that time, Officer Guzzo saw [Appellant] sitting on the steps inside the front door of his home. Following his conversation with Ms. Simmen, Officer Guzzo was permitted to enter [Appellant's] home, where he encountered [Appellant].

Officer Guzzo noted a moderate odor of alcohol coming from [Appellant] and observed that he had bloodshot eyes and an abrasion on his nose, which was consistent with the deployed airbag. Officer Guzzo asked [Appellant] if he had been drinking that night, and [Appellant] replied that he had consumed a couple of drinks earlier. The officer did not note any alcohol near the person of [Appellant] as he spoke to him in his home. [Appellant] also said that he left the scene of the accident because the vehicle was drivable. Officer Guzzo determined that [Appellant] had been driving under the influence and took him into custody at 1:43 a.m.

Trial Court Opinion, 2/29/12, at 2-4 (citations omitted). Our review of the record shows that Appellant subsequently submitted to a Breathalyzer test at approximately 2:22 a.m., which indicated Appellant's blood alcohol level was 0.125.

After Appellant was charged with DUI and related offenses, Appellant filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the officer's investigation. After an evidentiary hearing was held, the trial court denied Appellant's suppression motion. Appellant proceeded to a bench trial, ...

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