LH man guilty of aggravated assault while DUI
By LANA MUTHLER
LOCK HAVEN — It took a jury less than a half hour on Thursday afternoon to find a Lock Haven man guilty of two counts of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, two counts of aggravated assault by motor vehicle and other charges in connection with a violent accident on Dec. 23, 2016, that severely injured two women.
Donald Wayne Bowman, 46, of 105 Gobblers Knob Lane, was accused of driving his pickup truck under the influence of alcohol and crossing over into the other lane of travel causing a head-on crash on Route 664 in Bald Eagle Township, Clinton County. He faces a maximum of 34 years in prison.
Two occupants of the other vehicle — the driver Brenda K. Yonkin, 53, of Mill Hall, and front seat passenger Megan Byrnes, 25, of Lock Haven — were trapped in their vehicle for about an hour and spent weeks at Geisinger Medical Center and rehab centers, were in wheel chairs for months, and are still suffering from the affects of those injuries.
Another occupant, 4-year-old Kaden Byrnes, was in a child restraint seat in the back seat of the car and was not injured, police said.
Bowman, who was treated and released the next morning from Geisinger Medical Center was subsequently charged by state police with two counts of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, two counts of aggravated assault by motor vehicle, DUI, and several traffic violations.
Geisinger Medical Center reported his blood alcohol level at .161 on arrival.
Bowman’s account of what took place the night of the accident differed greatly from the testimony of others who testified at the one-day trial.
The trial began on Thursday morning in the Clinton County Courthouse with Potter County Judge John B. Leete presiding. Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Michael D. Angelelli prosecuted the case. Patrick Johnson was the defense attorney.
The Camry, driven by Yonkin, was in the southbound lane and Bowman was travelling north in the northbound lane, according to state police. Police said the Camry was struck by Bowman’s truck when he crossed into the southbound lane and hit the Camry head-on.
Investigating officer, Cpl. Jeffrey Hildebrand testified that Bowman was near his truck when he arrived at the scene at about 10:30 p.m., and when he talked to him, Bowman said he did not know how the crash occurred.
“He told me he was at Rock Bottom Tavern on Island Route and drank three or four Yeungling beers and was on his way home,” Hildebrand said. The tavern is about 8-10 miles from the accident scene, police said.
“He smelled very strongly of alcohol, his speech was slurred, he was unsure of his words, his eyes were red, and glossy and he was staggering and swaying,” the trooper said. “He was absolutely impaired.”
When he looked inside Bowman’s truck, he said he could smell alcohol. Outside of Bowman’s truck, Hildebrand said he found several Yeungling Lager beer cans, one was full and others were empty, about 20 feet from the truck.
The trooper said he could hear screaming coming from the Camry, adding that firefighters had to cut the roof off the Camry to get the women out of the wrecked car.
Also taking the witness stand was Sharon Kryder, 44, of Lock Haven. She said she is a registered nurse and was on her way to work when she came upon the accident.
Kryder said she immediately heard screaming from the car and saw Bowman walking around in the middle of the road. She said she approached him and he kept saying “something like I’m in trouble.” She said he repeated it over and over and he smelled like alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated.
As she looked in the car, Kryder said Yonkin was screaming and the passenger was having trouble staying awake. She said she heard a child crying and noticed the little boy in his car seat in the back seat, and got him out of the vehicle.
“Another woman arrived at the scene and took the child and I stayed with the women to keep them calm until the ambulance arrived,” Kryder said.
Both Yonkin and Byrnes said they were driving home to Mill Hall from a Christmas party in Galeton when they were hit head-on by the truck, which crossed over into their lane of travel.
Yonkin said the accident happened so quickly she didn’t have time to react.
“I saw the headlights and crash. I felt my right arm… something was wrong with it. It was just dangling. I picked up my hand and held it,” Yonkin said, adding that she had surgery that night at Geisinger to reattach her hand.
Yonkin testified that Byrnes apparently saw the headlights coming and tried to tell her but the crash came before she could get the words out.
Yonkin said she remembered Bowman coming over to the car and she cried out, “Help me.” She said he walked away.
Both women testified that they were “absolutely” in their own lane of travel when the truck crossed into their lane and slammed into them.
The defense attorney argued that the crash could not have happened that way, due to the fact that the front passenger sides of both vehicles were the most damaged and gouges in the road indicated the point of impact was in the center of the road.
However, retired state trooper and traffic accident reconstruction expert Steven Rickard testified otherwise, stating with certainty that his investigation clearly shows that Bowman’s “northbound vehicle straightened out on the curve and struck the southbound vehicle in the southbound lane.”
After the lunch recess, the attorneys agreed to stipulate that the defendant’s blood alcohol level was .15 percent at the time of the crash.
The commonwealth rested and it was time for the defense to present its case, and the defendant took the stand to tell what happened that night.
Bowman said he had four beers between 7 and 9:30 p.m. at Rock Bottom Tavern and was going home, traveling northbound when the accident happened.
“I was coming off the corner and could clearly see headlights in my lane. There was no place to go… oak trees on one side… zero place to go. I swerved to the left to try and miss them,” he said, claiming that the Camry was in his lane of travel. He said he first saw the car in his lane from 50 to 60 yards away. Asked if he was speeding, he responded, “No.”
After the accident, Bowman said he got out of his truck and walked over to the Camry and asked the women if they were alright. “There was no reply and I turned back to my vehicle,” he said.
He said the ambulance came first and then police arrived.
However, Bowman insisted that he never talked to police at the scene.
“I don’t recall every speaking to police,” he said.
When pressed on the issue and asked by his attorney if police ever called him for his version of the events, Bowman said, “No.”
On cross examination, Angelelli also pressed the issue, and Bowman said sternly, “I did not speak to him.”
Also, Bowman took offense with testimony that he said he was not drinking Yeungling beer that night.
“I wasn’t drinking Yeungling that night. I like Miller Lite,” he said.
During closing arguments, Johnson said, “My client was not negligent, but made a split second decision to avoid a crash. It was hit the trees or head-on, he tried to miss them entirely. The commonwealth has no theory of what happened. The police didn’t do a good job. They didn’t ask the other side. They made a quick conclusion.” Angelelli countered:
“Bowman admits drinking 4 or 5 beers. He said he wasn’t impaired, but .15 is extremely unsafe to be driving. That’s evidence of recklessness.
“The evidence is overwhelming. Bowman came through that curve and hit the Camry, sending it spinning. It happened completely in their lane.
“Hildebrand spoke to Bowman that night and he said he had no idea how it happened. Today he said they were in my lane.
“It’s all about credibility. He said he didn’t hear screaming. He said he didn’t talk to Hildebrand… then how would Hildebrand know Bowman was at Rock Bottom.
“The defendant was completely impaired and he was the cause of the accident.”
Bowman is scheduled for sentencing at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 at the courthouse.