Michael J. Yencha
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, Appellant
Submitted: April 6, 2018
BEFORE: HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE
CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge, HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI,
FIZZANO CANNON, JUDGE
Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing
(DOT) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of
Westmoreland County (trial court), which sustained the appeal
of Michael J. Yencha (Yencha) and reversed DOT's one-year
suspension of his driver's license. DOT imposed the
suspension because Yencha refused to submit to a chemical
test following his arrest for driving under the influence
pursuant to Section 1547 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S.
§ 1547, commonly referred to as the Implied Consent
The trial court reversed Yencha's suspension concluding
that DOT did not present sufficient evidence to meet its
burden of proving the arresting officer had reasonable
grounds to believe Yencha had been driving while under the
influence of alcohol. We reverse.
trial court hearing on this matter, DOT presented the
testimony of Officer Justin M. Scalzo (Officer Scalzo) of the
Greensburg Police Department. While Yencha attended the
hearing and was represented by counsel, he did not testify
and no other witnesses were presented by Yencha or DOT.
Transcript of Proceedings (T.), 9/22/17, at 5-6.
Scalzo testified that on January 18, 2017, while on duty, he
received a call to respond to a hit-and-run accident at the
intersection of Arch Avenue and East Otterman Street.
Id. at 6. Officer Scalzo arrived at the scene and
spoke with the victim, Constance Clingerman (Clingerman).
Id. Clingerman told Officer Scalzo that she was
traveling northbound on Arch Avenue, and she stopped at a red
light at the intersection of Arch Avenue and East Otterman
Street. Id. While stopped, Clingerman noticed
"a dark colored SUV-type vehicle travelling at a higher
rate of speed" that caught her attention and
subsequently struck her vehicle. Id.
told Officer Scalzo that she exited her vehicle to speak with
the driver to obtain insurance information and to report the
accident to the police. Id. Clingerman reported that
the driver who struck her vehicle got back into his vehicle
and fled the scene. Id. at 7. Clingerman stated that
once the vehicle left the scene, it travelled northbound on
Arch Avenue. Id. at 8. Officer Scalzo examined
Clingerman's vehicle and saw damage to the rear bumper.
Id. at 7. Although Clingerman did not obtain any
driver information, she described the driver as a "white
male with brownish colored hair." Id.
Officer Scalzo was interviewing Clingerman, another witness
to the accident, Shane McBride (McBride), approached him and
provided additional information regarding the accident.
Id. at 7. McBride told Officer Scalzo that he was
travelling southbound on Arch Avenue and saw a dark colored
SUV travelling on Arch strike Clingerman's vehicle.
Id. McBride provided Officer Scalzo with the license
plate number of the vehicle that hit Clingerman's
vehicle, "Echo, Bravo, November 1561, "
i.e., EBN 1561. Id. at 7-8. With this
information, Officer Scalzo had dispatch perform a
registration check on the vehicle. Id. at 7. Based
on the registration check, Officer Scalzo determined that the
registered owner was Yencha and that he resided on Underwood
Avenue. Id. at 7-8.
Scalzo asked other on-duty police officers to check Underwood
Avenue and the surrounding area for the vehicle. Id.
at 8. A short time later, other officers notified Officer
Scalzo that they located Yencha's vehicle, which was
parked in front of his house on Underwood Avenue.
Id. About 15 minutes later, Officer Scalzo arrived
at Yencha's residence to speak with him. Id.
When he arrived at the residence, Officer Scalzo noticed a
"darker greenish colored Jeep" parked in front of
the residence. Id. The front end of the Jeep had
sustained some damage. Id. Officer Scalzo
"verified the registration, Echo, Bravo, November 1561,
as the same registration [McBride] gave [him] on the
scene." Id. The vehicle belonged to Yencha.
Id. By this time, three other officers had already
arrived at Yencha's residence and started speaking to
Yencha on his front porch. Id. at 9.
Scalzo explained to Yencha that he was there to investigate
the accident that occurred on Arch Avenue. Yencha denied
knowing about any accident. Id. Officer Scalzo
explained to Yencha that the damage on the front of his
vehicle was consistent with the damage on the struck vehicle.
Id. at 9-10. Yencha responded that his vehicle had
been damaged in an earlier accident at the Hill Top Club.
Id. at 10. During his conversation with Yencha,
Officer Scalzo "detected a strong odor of an alcoholic
beverage coming from his person, and I also noticed, you
know, glassy eyes, slightly slurred speech, all indicative of
somebody under the influence of an alcoholic beverage."
Id. at 9. Officer Scalzo testified that he believed
that Yencha was under the influence of alcohol based on his
"overall appearance, " including the odor of
alcohol and Yencha's slurred speech and bloodshot eyes,
which, Officer Scalzo explained, as a result of his training
and experience, would cause him to conduct standard field
sobriety tests in normal suspected driving under the
influence situations. Id. at 10. Officer Scalzo
requested Yencha submit to field sobriety tests, but Yencha
refused. Id. Officer Scalzo placed Yencha under
arrest for "suspicion of driving - [driving under the
influence] DUI and being involved in the hit-and-run
accident." Id. at 11.
the police station, Officer Scalzo asked Yencha to submit to
a breath test. Id. Initially, Yencha agreed to take
the test, but later refused. Id. at 11-12. Officer
Scalzo read the DL-26 form, which provided the chemical
testing refusal warnings, to Yencha verbatim. Id. at
13. Officer Scalzo asked Yencha to sign the form to
acknowledge that he fully understood what the Officer read to
him; Yencha refused to sign the form. Id.
cross-examination, Officer Scalzo admitted that he did not
see Yencha drive a vehicle and that none of the witnesses
identified Yencha as the driver of the vehicle. Id.
at 15, 24 & 29. Officer Scalzo admitted that Clingerman
never mentioned the driver having "any indication of
alcohol." Id. at 19-20, 29. Officer Scalzo
explained that, "[f]rom my understanding, it wasn't
a real long encounter. It was just a brief encounter when
[Clingerman] exited her vehicle to ask for insurance."
Id. at 19.
arrived at Yencha's residence, Officer Scalzo stated that
he checked the registration and observed damage to the front
of the Jeep that would be consistent with the damage done to
Clingerman's vehicle. Id. at 22. Although
Officer Scalzo did not notice any paint transfer, he observed
"dents to the rear of her van and dents to the front of
[Yencha's] vehicle, which would show a rear end
collision." Id. Officer Scalzo did not take the
Jeep back to compare it to Clingerman's vehicle to see if
the damage coordinated because he allowed Clingerman to leave
after he finished interviewing her, as there were no reported
injuries at the scene, which is normal in a "hit-and-run
or a rear[-]end collision vehicle accident."
Id. at 20, 23-24.
Scalzo testified that approximately 25 minutes lapsed from
when he arrived on the accident scene until he spoke with
Yencha on his porch and observed his state of
intoxication. Id. at 24, 29-30. Officer Scalzo
stated that he did not know whether Yencha consumed any
alcohol at his house. Id. at 25-26.
re-direct examination, Officer Scalzo explained why he
thought Yencha was the driver of the vehicle involved in the
Well, a couple of things, I guess, based off of, and again,
it was a vague description, but a white male with brownish
colored hair that fit Mr. Yencha when I spoke with him,
accompanied with the fact that there was a plate, a
registration plate, registered to Mr. Yencha. He was the sole
person at his residence at the time, and then putting [the]
time frame together, as I have noted in my report, when he
had stated to me what time he arrived home, put me in ...