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Ronald J. Wendt

November 15, 2010 - 11:40am
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

Ronald J. Wendt, the 25-year-old Alexander man convicted of drunken driving and taking the life of a Dansville girl, will spend at least another 15 months in prison and could end up serving a total of seven-and-a-half years behind bars.

Wendt was sentenced in Genesee County Court today on his 11 convictions stemming from the fatal accident in Darien Center on Aug. 14, 2009.

Katie Stanley, 18, died in the crash that also injured three other people, and two of them say they continue to have medical problems.

The top count of Wendt's charges was aggravated vehicular manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Judge Robert C. Noonan sentenced Wendt to two and a half to seven and a half years on that count, and Wendt has already been in Genesee County Jail for 13 months, leaving a minimum of 15 months to serve.

On the other 10 counts, Wendt received concurrent sentences ranging from one year to two-to-six years. (For a list of the counts the sentencing options available to Noonan, click here.)

Noonan called the case a tragedy and noted, as did Friedman, that the underlying DWI charge was no more serious than what hundreds of people in Genesee County face every year. If there had been no accident, Noonan said, and Wendt was still arrested, he probably would have faced a misdemeanor DWI case, have it reduced to a violation and have served no jail time.

"You wouldn’t be standing here and you wouldn’t be facing a prison sentence, but unfortunately your conduct did lead to some serious consequences and I intend to impose a serious prison sentence," Noonan said.

September 30, 2010 - 5:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

When 25-year-old Ronald J. Wendt, convicted Monday of aggravated vehicular homicide and 10 other charges, is sentenced Nov. 15, Genesee County Judge Robert C. Noonan will have a range of sentencing options.

Under statute, each felony and misdemeanor carries its own sentencing guidelines, but all of the sentences will likely be served concurrently.

Here are the charges and sentencing options:

  1. Driving While Intoxicated as a misdemeanor: 1 year maximum;
  2. Driving While Intoxicated, per se, as a misdemeanor (i.e., driving with a BAC of .08 or greater): 1 year maximum;
  3. Vehicular Manslaughter, 2nd, a Class D felony: 1 to 3 years, minimum; 2 1/3 to 7 maximum;
  4. Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a Class B felony (referred to as the "top count"): 1 to 3 minimum, 8 1/3 to 25 years maximum;
  5. Manslaughter, 2nd, a Class C felony: 1 to 3 minimum, 5 to 15 maximum;
  6. Vehicular assault, 2nd, a Class E felony: 1 to 3 minimum, 1 1/3 to 4 years maximum;
  7. Aggravated Vehicular Assault, a Class C felony: 1 to 3 minimum, 5 to 15 maximum;
  8. Assault, 2nd, a Class D felony: Minimum 2 years, maximum 7 years;
  9. Vehicular Assault, 2nd, a Class E felony: 1 to 3 minimum, 1 1/3 to 4 years maximum;
  10. Assault, 2nd, a Class D felony: Minimum 2 years, maximum 7 years;
  11. Assault, 3rd, a misdemeanor: 1 year maximum.

On a count like aggravated vehicular manslaughter, Noonan could pick the one to three range, and it would mean Wendt would be eligible for parole after one year. If Noonan gave Wendt the maximum under that charge, Wendt would be eligible for parole after eight-and-one-third years. He couldn't serve more than 25 years.

Noonan could also set a range within the minimum and maximum.

Given that Count #8 and Count #10 carry minimum two year sentences, Wendt would have to serve at least two years in prison, even if Noonan picked a lower range on the higher class felonies.

Some key cases that have come before Noonan for sentencing in the past year:

  • Scott F. Doll, convicted of beating to death Joseph Benaquist: Doll received 15 years to life. Noonan could have sent Doll to jail for 25 years to life, but said it didn't seem right to lock Doll up for the rest of his life when younger men convicted of the same crime would be getting out of jail in their 50s.
  • Thomas Wallace, who admitted to watching porn while driving his truck just as he plowed into a disabled car on the Thruway, killing an Amherst mother, received a three to nine year prison term.
  • Dennis M. Abrams, the mastermind of robbing an M&T Bank branch in Elba, where he and his accomplices terrorized the tellers, received a 13 1/2 year sentence.
September 28, 2010 - 1:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

Whether Rachel Enderle was speeding, or not, or how attentive she was to her driving, doesn't really matter, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman told the jury in closing arguments of the Ronald J. Wendt manslaughter trial.

Wendt's conduct the night of Aug. 14, 2009 was a crucial link in a chain of events that led to a tragic accident. The jury need only find that without Wendt's conduct, the accident would never have occurred.

"If this defendant had not been drinking throughout the day, throughout the evening and throughout the night, Katie Stanley would still be alive," Friedman said. "If he hadn’t felt the need for one more beer and turned in front of that car, Katie Stanley would still be alive."

Defense attorney Thomas Burns argued forcefully in his closing remarks that the evidence does not support the charge that Wendt was driving drunk, nor that he should have reasonably concluded that by making that fateful left turn, an accident would have occurred.

The Sheriff's Office never investigated other factors in the crash, Burns argued, but immediately concluded that Wendt was at fault.

"So the singular focus is what I submit to you is what this trial is ultimately about," Burns said. "How else do we explain, for example, when we know that Mr. Fox said he was speeding, that he was not issued a traffic citation?

"When evidence suggests that Mr. Fox was directly behind Ms. Enderle and that she would have been speeding, there is no suggestion that she was issued a traffic citation in this case. How else do we explain resistance from police witnesses to common law evidence and how the Datamaster can be interpreted as to non-intoxication rather than simply intoxication?"

Wendt's BAC at the time of the accident may every well have been below .08, Burns argued, pointing out the rate of absorption possible would mean his last beer would have been hitting his system just about the time the test was administered.

Friedman, in his more than hour-long remarks, pointed out that absorption into Wendt's blood would have started when he took his first sip of that last beer, not when he finished it. Also, some of the alcohol in his system from his day of drinking would have been leaving his system at the same time.

Wendt's BAC at the time of the accident, Friedman said, could actually have been above .08.

Burns, also taking more than an hour to make his case, argued that the Datamaster is not reliable and like any machine, prone to error, but Friedman said breath tests go back to the 1950s and are standard tools for measuring BAC in criminal cases.

There's no evidence, Friedman said, that the Datamaster is any less reliable than a direct blood test. The results of the Datamaster are a person's actual BAC, not an estimate, as Burns had said, according to Friedman.

Burns also called into question the results of the field sobriety test given to Wendt by Deputy Tim Wescott at the scene. Burns was critical of the lack of consideration for any possible injuries Wendt might have suffered in the violent collision, that his fatigue was a factor and his heavy boots were a factor.

Also, Burns said, since the field test wasn't video recorded, the only record of Wendt's performance on the test was Wescott's memory.

Friedman countered that Wescott was an experienced law officer, that since his report also contained information on the parts of the test Wendt passed, and that by Wendt's own conduct and remarks prior to the test, Wescott's testimony was credible.

Friedman argued that the facts of the case clearly demonstrate that Wendt was intoxicated at the time of the crash and that even though he could clearly see a car right in front of him, he turned in front of it without stopping first and without using his turn signal. 

"I would suggest to you that the defense has tried very hard to complicate a very straightforward case," Friedman said.

The jury is beginning deliberations this afternoon.

If convicted of all charges, the 25-year-old Wendt could face up to 25 years in prison.

September 27, 2010 - 6:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

Ron Wendt's truck was likely traveling at 11 mph when it was struck by a Toyota Camry on Aug. 14, 2009 as Wendt attempted to make a left-hand turn into the parking lot of My Saloon on Broadway in Darien.

The Camry, driven by Rachel Enderle, 27, of Dansville, was likely going at 46 mph at the point of impact.

This is the testimony of accident scene investigator Deputy Ron Meides.

Meides said he had no ability to calculate the speed of the Camry in the second prior to impact.

Defense Attorney Thomas Burns asked a number of questions about the relative speed of the Camry and how much distance it would have traveled at those speeds.

Previously, Enderle and another witness have put the possible speeds in a range from 50 to 60 mph.

Witness Amanda McClellan estimated in earlier testimony that Wendt's truck was traveling at 30 to 40 mph as he attempted to make the turn.

Meides said his calculations were based on the distance the vehicles moved from the point of impact to where they came to rest. Because Wendt's truck hit a parked truck, therefore stopping motion, Meides had to begin his calculations on the distance that the stationary truck moved.

The starting point of the calculations was a gouge in the roadway. He estimated that the Camry traveled 10 feet from the point of impact and the Wendt's Dodge Ram moved 15 feet.

The weights of the vehicles with their respective passengers are also a factor in the calculation, as is the condition of the roadway. 

The type of roadway -- in this case "polished asphalt" (because of heavy use and age) -- adds "drag" to the motion of the vehicles (as does the condition of the tires, but not as much as the road surface).

Because the Sheriff's Office doesn't have the necessary device, Meides did not test for roadway drag to get a precise measurement. He testified that the number he used (called a co-efficient) was .5, which he said is standard under those conditions.

Other testimony today:

Sgt. Steve Mullen of the Sheriff's Office was called back to the stand to narrate a nighttime video he and other investigators made of driving past My Saloon. The video included two vehicles -- a truck stopped with its turn signal on in front of My Saloon and a sedan driving through Darien Center at 45 mph.

The only defense witness called today was Benjamin Bonarigo, an intern at his father's law firm, Bonarigo & McCutcheon. Bonarigo took additional pictures of the accident scene area on behalf of the defense.

Both attorneys rested their cases today and the jury was dismissed for the evening. Closing arguments begin around 9 a.m., Tuesday.

Once the jury was out of the courtroom, Burns resumed his motions for dismissal of all 11 counts against Wendt, saying that the People have failed to make its case that Wendt was driving under the influence and that he drove in a reckless manner.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman was critical of Burns' motion, saying that Burns offered no proof that the People had failed to make its case. In fact, Friedman argued, there was sufficient evidence of DWI and that Wendt's actions were reckless.

"Obviously it’s our position, and I think that viewing the evidence in the most favorable light to the people, we have established reckless driving," Friedman said. "The defendant turned (left) right in front of a car that is so close. It’s not just his intoxication. It’s not just his traffic violation. It’s that he made the turn with the other vehicle in such close proximity."

The issue of recklessness -- and how to instruct the jury on the charges involving recklessness -- were also a big point of contention between Burns and Friedman when discussing how Noonan will instruct the jury on the charges.

Burns wants a charge that would require the jury to find that Wendt's behavior was clearly reckless, that he acted in a way that showed careless disregard for other people on a public highway. Friedman said under the law, the People don't even need to prove criminal negligence to get a reckless driving conviction -- just that the defendant took an action and it led to the death of another person.

Noonan will issue his rulings on how to instruct the jury on the charges in the morning, but he set no specific time on when he might rule on Burns' dismissal motions.

September 27, 2010 - 2:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

The prosecution in the Ronald J. Wendt manslaughter trial will not be allowed to submit evidence from a computer program that calculates and reaches conclusions on what happened in the Aug. 14, 2009 accident that killed a Dansville girl.

However, maps generated by the program that depict the accident scene without interpretation can be used, Judge Robert C. Noonan ruled in Genesee County Court today.

The combination of measuring devices and computer programs are known as Nikon Total Station, Vista FX (6th Edition) and Crashnet.

Noonan concluded that there are no precedents for using these programs for the purpose of accident-scene reconstruction and one of the tests of admissibility would be establishing general acceptance for that purpose by the scientific community. That has not been established, Noonan ruled.

In another matter, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman objected to photos brought into court today by defense attorney Thomas Burns, saying he hadn't been properly notified and questioning their evidentiary value.

Noonan ruled that Friedman could challenge the value of the photos as evidence at the time Burns attempts to enter them as evidence.

The photos were taken recently of the accident scene area. Burns said some of the photos show views that have not been offered into evidence by the prosecution.

September 27, 2010 - 1:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

darien_broadway_east02.jpg

As I've read our coverage of the Ron Wendt manslaughter trial, I've thought a couple of times it would be useful to see the scene of the accident, what the roadway is like, where buildings are located. 

To help with some perspective are four pictures from the scene. Note, to avoid any visual warping of perspective, I did not use telephoto settings on my lens. I did use a wide-angle setting from the porch of My Saloon.

Top picture is looking east on Route 20/Broadway from the low point of the road, less than 100 yards from the driveway of My Saloon (just past the Route 354 turn sign on the right).

For a bigger version of this picture, click here.

The trial resumes this afternoon.

More pictures after the jump:

September 23, 2010 - 5:36pm
posted by Timothy Walton in dwi, genesee county court, Ronald J. Wendt.

Defense Attorney Thomas Burns called Dr. Fran Gengo to testify this morning in the DWI case of Ronald Wendt. The expert witness answered basic questions from both Burns and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell about his background, education and medical experience.

Gengo is a clinical pharmacologist at the DENT Neurological Institute and currently serves as an associate professor of Pharmacy and Neurology and a clinical assistant professor of Neurosurgery at the SUNYAB School of Medicine. He now practices neuropharmacology research and pharmacotherapy.

During his initial testimony, Burns asked Gengo to relay to his expertise concerning alcohol in the body, as well as his knowledge of the breathylizer he was experienced in using.

Gengo testified to analyzing breathylizer results and making use of the data for many years. He also informed the court that he took what he believed to be was the same training that police officers take to become certified in giving a breathlyizer test.

Since Gengo is not a government or law enforcement official, he could not take the exact training that police officers do. However, he did say that the training was administered by a former police officer and the curriculum and manuals were the same.

A debate between the prosecution and the defense arose when Burns questioned Gengo about his knowledge of a variance in the results of the DataMaster test, which gauges blood-alcohol level or BAC.

Gengo said he had no designated training specifically in the DataMaster, but based on his reasearch and scientific knowledge, he maintained that scientists generally accept a variance in the DataMaster, and that the mechanism is not 100-percent accurate.

Finnell argued that this testimony should not be used because Gengo has not had any training in that specific device. But Judge Robert Noonan allowed the testimony, saying  the witness was more than capable of having that knowledge based on his scientific background and general understanding of science.

NOTE: Juror #1 was excused due to illness and it was determined that he/she would not be available within the next few days. Substitute Juror #1 replaced Juror #1.

September 22, 2010 - 2:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

In the three or four hours before the accident in Darien that took the life of a Dansville girl, Ronald J. Wendt may have drank as many as six beers, a longtime friend of his testified today.

Thirty-five-year-old William D. Marchisin, who says he's known Wendt for a number of years, was called by District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to testify about what he and Wendt did in the hours leading up to the Aug. 14, 2009 accident.

The day started at 11 a.m. at Marchisin's house and included a pizza lunch at about 1 p.m. The two men then went to a neighbor's barn to remove a grain bin and then spent the next several hours baling hay.

According to Marchisin, Wendt brought along a cooler that contained six Arizona Ice Teas and six beers. The two men drank three beers apiece before leaving the field, then at two more at the VFW Hall in Alexander, and then one more in Attica while waiting for their wings to be cooked at a pizza shop  there.

Under cross examination by Wendt's defense attorney, Thomas Burns, it came out that Marchisin has given different versions of the events that day.

In one interview with investigators, he even lied under oath -- he admitted this in court today -- about even being at the accident scene. 

In his first interview with investigator William Ferrando, Marchisin said that Wendt dropped him off at home before Wendt drove to My Saloon (the accident occurred in front of the bar on Broadway Road in Darien). A few minutes later, Marchisin gave a new sworn statement saying that he was in the truck when it was struck by a car driven by Rachel Enderle.

Marchisin said he was scared during the Aug. 18 meeting with Ferrando, which is why he lied.

As for when he and Wendt had their first beer, Marchisin has given different time lines. In Grand Jury testimony, he said 7 p.m. Today, he said under direct examination that it was 8 p.m., but later testified that it might have been 15 or 20 minutes after 7 p.m.

Marchisin also admitted that he left the scene of the accident as soon as ambulances arrived.

He described the post-accident scene as chaos, with people yelling and screaming, and bar patrons mobbing the scene, bringing out drinks, including beer bottles, and setting them on the car and truck.

"I stood there on the curb," Marchisin said. "I stood there and I don’t want to say 'awed,' but dazzled, and I considered the scene secured, I guess, and I told Ron, 'I can’t handle it anymore,' and I walked home."

Marchisin lives about a mile from where the accident occurred.

Wendt's friend did not testify about the accident itself and may be called back to the stand on another day to testify about what he saw and heard.

First on the stand today was Ferrando, who photographed the accident scene and authenticated the pictures as evidence.

Among the pictures, are two that show a LaBatt's Blue beer box in Wendt's pickup bed and what appeared to be a Blue beer can on the ground next to the truck.

Also on the stand for a brief time was Gabby Mahus, who was a passenger, sitting behind the driver, in the car that hit Wendt's truck.

She broke down when describing the accident scene and Katie Stanley being taken from the car, apparently not breathing. Judge Robert Noonan authorized a short recess so she compose herself, but Friedman had only two more questions for her when she came back.

We'll have coverage of the afternoon testimony later.

September 21, 2010 - 6:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

On a clear night, on a straight road, at a time when none of the four people in her car were talking, cell phones weren't being used and the radio wasn't on, Rachel L. Enderle, with her hands on the wheel and her eyes straight ahead, didn't see Ronald J. Wendt's truck until a second before her Toyota Camry hit it.

Wendt, on trial for manslaughter and reckless driving, is accused of turning left on Route 20 at the location of My Saloon in Darien Center, right in front of 27-year-old Enderle's car.

Enderle's Camry plowed into the side of the Dodge Ram truck, and Enderle apparently neither hit her brakes nor swerved to avoid the accident.

Katie Stanley, 18, died as a result of the accident. She was a passenger in Enderle's car.

Alexander resident Wendt, 25, could serve up to 25 years in prison if convicted by the 12-person jury of aggravated reckless driving.

Enderle testified today that she wasn't distracted in any way prior to the accident, though she was probably going 55 mph in the 40 mph zone. The Dansville resident testified that she didn't see the lower speed limit signs when driving into the hamlet.

The only thing she remembers is seeing the maroon passenger side door of Wendt's truck just before hitting it.

"I didn't know where it came from," Enderle said.

She said she had no time to react.

"In my head and my heart, I do feel like I got my foot on the brake," Enderle said."I don’t know if pushed down on it."

While another witness testified that Wendt had his headlights on, Enderle said she didn't see the headlights of his truck approaching from the east. 

Two of the three witnesses who testified today could not recall with certainty whether Wendt used his turn signal.

Another witness, Amanda McClellan, who was standing on the recessed porch of My Saloon, and couldn't possibly have had a clear view of Wendt's truck as it approached the spot of the accident, said Wendt didn't have his turn signal on.

While Enderle said she had no time to react, another driver, Brian C. Fox, of Portageville, said he was two or three seconds behind Enderle's Toyota, managed to slam on the brakes of his pickup truck and stop five feet short of the collision.

Fox said he saw Wendt's truck -- with headlights on -- down the road before Wendt started his turn, but said Wendt turned quickly right in front of Enderle's car.

Asked by District Attorney Lawrence Friedman his opinion on whether the driver of the Toyota could possibly have had time to react, Fox said,  "There was nothing they could do."

Speed, of course, is an important factor in reaction time. 

Both Fox and Enderle testified that they couldn't say for sure how fast they were going, but there were driving with the flow of traffic.

Evidence indicates that Fox told investigators after the accident that he was going 55 mph. Today, Fox testified that he said he was going 55 because he thought that was the speed limit on that stretch of Broadway Road.

Today, he initially testified that he must have been going between 45 mph and 55 mph.

At a DMV hearing some months ago, Fox testified that he may have been going as fast as 60 mph.

McClellan testified that she thought Enderle was traveling at about the speed limit, or 40 mph. She estimated Wendt's speed to be between 30 and 40 mph as he went into the turn into the parking lot, though she admitted she didn't hear his tires squeal or see his truck fishtail.

Both Enderle and McClellan testified that beer cans and bottles flew from the bed of Wendt's truck at the time of impact. McClellan said there were as many as 20 beer containers on the ground near the accident scene. 

"A man had said let’s get these cans and bottles out of here before the cops get here," Enderle said.

Testimony in the Wendt trial resumes in the morning.

September 21, 2010 - 10:51am
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

When court adjourned Monday night, there were 12 jurors sworn for the manslaughter trial of Ronald J. Wendt.

Now there are 11.

A juror was excused this morning for medical reasons.

About a dozen people from the original jury pool entered the court room today expecting to go through the interview process for the alternate jury seats, but now one of them will fill the 12th seat.

Then another juror sent a long note to Judge Robert C. Noonan this morning raising a number of concerns that he said came up over night related to his job. The juror also apparently discussed his situation with another juror.

After interviewing the juror who wrote the note, Noonan declined to dismiss him from service, saying that under New York statutes, once a juror is sworn the bar for removing a person from the jury becomes much higher.

Opening arguments in the case once all 12 jurors and alternates are seated.

September 20, 2010 - 8:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

By 6 p.m. today, the 12 jurors were picked who will decide the guilt or not of Ronald J. Wendt, accused of manslaughter, DWI and reckless driving in an accident that took the life of an 18-year-old Dansville girl.

In the morning, Tuesday, court will convene to select alternate jurors, with opening arguments to begin later in the day.

After the jury was picked, and the jurors and prospective alternates left, Judge Robert Noonan ruled that District Attorney Lawrence Friedman will not be allowed to use a PowerPoint presentation as part of his opening statement.

Noonan said there was no case law he could find allowing PowerPoint to be used in the opening summation, though there is case law to support its use in closing. Noonan said he would change his ruling if Friedman could find a prior ruling allowing its use.

September 20, 2010 - 10:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

Every few years a case comes along that the national media hypes as “The Trial of the Century.”

Jurors are being chosen today in Genesee County Court for what may not even be the local trial of the year – that label might better be applied to the Scott Doll murder case – but for Ronald J. Wendt, it's his trial of a lifetime.

He is charged with 11 felony counts stemming from a fatal automobile accident on Aug. 12, 2009, including aggravated vehicular manslaughter. The charge alleges more than just drinking-and-driving. The indictment contends that Wendt drove recklessly, causing an accident that took the life of another person.

If convicted of all charges against him, and given the maximum sentence, the 25-year-old Alexander resident would be older, by the time he's released from prison, than 60 percent of the people reading this article are today.

The charge carries a maximum 25-year sentence.

But Katie Stanley had her entire adult life ahead of her. The Dansville resident was just 18 when she was killed on Route 20 in Darien that summer day.

One of the key issues in the trial will be -- was Wendt really responsible for her death?

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman will try to establish: that Wendt was legally impaired by alcohol at the time of the accident; that he was reckless when he made a left-hand turn into oncoming traffic in order to pull into the parking lot of My Saloon; and that his actions are a direct cause of Stanley's death.

Defense Attorney Thomas Burns will try to prove that Wendt was not over the legal limit at the time of the accident. He will argue that a .08 BAC recorded in a test more than an hour after the accident, represents a slight elevation in his BAC from his last drink, but not his BAC at the time of the accident.

Wendt reportedly recorded a .07 in a breath test at the scene. Field breath tests, however, are not admissible as evidence at trial, by either side. 

Wendt, who was helping a friend bale hay that day, has said he drank his last beer about 15 minutes before the accident. That drink may not have made it into his system at the time of the accident, but could have shown up in the later BAC test.

Also at issue are the actions of the other driver Rachel L. Enderle, 27. There were reportedly no skid marks at the scene, and prior to trial, it's not been publicly established how fast the car was going at the time of the accident. 

The spot of the accident is an area in Darien Center that is posted 40 mph along a stretch of Route 20 that is otherwise 55 mph.

Enderle along with Wendt was named in a lawsuit filed in Rochester earlier this year by Timothy L. Enderle, who was also a passenger in Rachel's car.

"Any time there are two cars in an accident, there is a certain percentage of fault with both drivers," said Timothy's attorney, Sheldon W. Boyce.

The key question in this trial is to what degree, if any, is Ronald J. Wendt at fault? And if found at fault to any degree, how much of his life should he be forced to give up?

For previous coverage, click here.

February 24, 2010 - 2:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, accident, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

If it's going to take an expert witness to help Ronald J. Wendt beat the 12 felony charges against him, it's going to take money.

His attorney, Thomas Burns, says Wendt is "tapped out."

ron_wendt_outside_court.jpgSitting in jail, unable to earn money, Wendt cannot afford the thousands it would cost to bring in an expert in field sobriety tests and breathalyzers to help challenge the charge that he was driving drunk Aug. 12 when he was involved in an accident that took the life of Dansville teenager Katie M. Stanley.

County Attorney John Rizzo filed papers this week opposing a motion by Burns for the county to pay for the expert.

"I understand Mr. Rizzo's concern regarding the taxpayers," said Burns today, "but this is fundamentally at the heart of our defense. It is very important to us."

Wendt appeared in court today -- dressed in Genesee County Jail orange and with his head shaved -- for a hearing on motions by Burns that arresting officer Deputy Tim Wescott did not have sufficient probable cause to charge Wendt and to suppress statements made by Wendt to Wescott.

County Court Judge Robert Noonan denied both motions and set a date for a week-long trial.

Jury selection will start July 12 at 9 a.m. 

Noonan set May 24 as the plea-offer cutoff.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said the offer he's made to Wendt is to reduce the aggravated vehicular homicide charge -- with a maximum penalty of 8 to 25 years in state prison -- to aggravated vehicular manslaughter. The reduced charge could still result in a more than two-year prison sentence, and up to seven years.

Burns said after the hearing that he expects the case to go to trial. The bottom end of the sentence on the first count of the indictment is one to three years, if Wendt were convicted by a jury.

Today, Westcott testified at length about the field sobriety test he conducted on Wendt following the late-night accident.

An expert witness would help Burns establish doubt as to whether the test conclusively proved that Wendt was driving drunk.

Wescott testified that he started with an eye-tracking test, which is designed to find possible nystagmus, which is an involuntary eye movement. Wescott testified that Wendt passed this test, saying that in order to determine that a driver has a BAC of at least .10, he will need to show four clues in the test and Wendt showed only two.

Friedman objected to Burns asking a series of questions about the eye-tracking test, but Noonan overruled the objection.

Wescott also testified that he had Wendt walk a straight line with the requirement that he take nine steps in each direction, heel-to-toe. Wescott said in his judgement, Wendt failed this test, missing four steps by an inch or less between his heel and toe going forward and raising his hands from his side on the return.

When it came to touching his nose, Wendt missed slightly on four of six tries.

On another test, where the suspect is asked to close his eyes, tilt his head back and try to estimate when 30 seconds had passed, Wendt said stop after 37 seconds. The standard deviation, according to Wescott, is five seconds.

More than an hour after the accident, Wendt submitted to a BAC test and reportedly tested at .08.

Wendt did allegedly make at least one incriminating statement early in the interview, Wescott testified. Wendt said, according to Wescott, "You might as well have me blow and take me to jail."

Noonan ruled that statement will be admissible at trial.

For previous coverage, click here.

January 26, 2010 - 1:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, accident, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

If Defense Attorney Thomas Burns wants the mobile phone records of the occupants of a Toyota in which one of the passengers was killed in an accident, he will need to subpoena them himself.

Judge Robert C. Noonan denied Burns' motion to require the prosecution to produce the records.

In his ruling, Noonan noted that the defense can obtain the records subpoena duces tecum, which means "bring with you under penalty of punishment."

Asked whether he would issue such a subpoena, Burns responded:

The Court has decided that the items sought can be independently secured by the defense. Of course there are a number of hurdles to acquire the information necessary to issue an appropriate subpoena to acquire them. The defense merely sought the assistance of the prosecution in providing that information. Since the ruling requires the defense to independently acquire such information we will do just that. The irony is that in a civil proceeding the discovery mechanisms provide for almost unlimited disclosure from the opposing party, by use of depositions etc., these things are not available to a criminal defendant. Nor does a prosecution witness have any obligation to speak to a criminal defendant's attorney or investigator. However, it is my intention to take whatever steps are necessary to secure records of all occupants of the vehicle. The remaining issue is that of relevance. For a jury to be informed of the content of such information the Court would need to be convinced that such information is relevant and probative on a material issue in the case.

Burns is defending Ronald J. Wendt, a 24-year-old Alexander resident who faces numerous felony charges following the accident that took the life of Katie Stanley, 18, of Dansville. Criminal enhancements sought by District Attorney Lawrence Friedman could lead to as much as a 25-year sentence. Wendt allegedly had a BAC of .08 at the time of the accident.

The dirver of the Toyota, Rachel L. Enderle, 27, also of Dansville, was named in a lawsuit filed last month in Rochester by one of the occupants of the car, Michael A. Enderle.

There were apparently no skids marks left by the Toyota prior to hitting Wendt's pickup truck.

Wendt is in jail on $250,000 bail after he reportedly violated the terms of his previous release by riding a motorbike to work.

For previous coverage of the Ronald J. Wendt case, click here.

January 15, 2010 - 2:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in accident, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

One of the passengers in a car involved in a fatal accident Aug. 14 in Darien Center has filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against the drivers of both vehicles.

Timothy L. Enderle names as defendants Ronald J. Wendt, Jr., Rachel L. Enderle and Michael A. Enderle.

Rachel, 27, was reportedly the driver of a 1993 Toyota sedan owned by Michael. Timothy, 20, was a passenger along with Gabrielle E. Mahus, 18, and Katie M. Stanley, 18.

Stanley died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

According to the initial Sheriff's Office press release, Timothy was transported by ambulance to UMMC and later transferred to Strong Memorial with a hip injury.

When we reached Rochester attorney Sheldon W. Boyce, who is representing Timothy, he wasn't in his office and didn't have a copy of the case with him, but he indicated there is no specific allegation of distracted driving by Rachel or equipment failure in the Toyota.

"Any time there are two cars in an accident, there is a certain percentage of fault with both drivers," Boyce said.

Wendt, who is accused of drunken driving, is in jail on $250,000 bail awaiting trial on a 12-count indictment that with enhancements could lead to a 25-year prison term.

For previous coverage, click here.

January 12, 2010 - 12:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, accident, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

The attorney for an Alexander man accused of driving drunk at the time of a fatal accident in Darien wants to see the mobile phone records for the occupants of the car carrying the Dansville teenager who was killed.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman says that Defense Attorney Thomas Burns is merely on a "fishing expedition" in his request for the records.

The request and Friedman 's response are in motions filed by the two attorneys in the case of 24-year-old Ronald J. Wendt.

ron_wendt_outside_court.jpgWendt faces a 12-count indictment in the case, including an enhancement charge that could lead to a 25-year prison sentence.

"The requested records are relevant and highly probative on the issue of the driver's attention to road conditions and other traffic immediately to the automobile accident," Burns writes. 

Burns goes on to note that distracted driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, accounts for 26 percent of motor vehicle accidents.

Friedman responded, "There has never been any indication that anyone in the victims' automobile was using a cell phone at or near the time of the collision ... Instead, the defense is simply attempting to engage in a "fishing expedition" ... The people are not in possession of, nor aware of, the existence of any such cell phone records. Furthermore, we fail to see the relevance of possible cell phone communications involving passengers in said vehicle. Finally, it is the People's position that there is no authority for the Defendant's baseless effort to obtain possible cell phone records of crime victims and that such discovery would be beyond the parameters of (evidence law)."

Katie M. Stanley was killed in the Aug. 14 accident. Stanley was a passenger in a Toyota driven by a friend from Dansville and there were two other passengers. The group was returning from Darien Lake on Route 5 when it entered Darien Center, where the speed limit quickly drops from 55 mph to 40 mph. Wendt was apparently the driver of a Dodge Ram pickup that turned left into the parking lot of My Saloon just ahead of the oncoming car.

The Toyota struck the rear of the pickup truck. There has been no evidence presented so far, nor reports of, skid marks or other evasive action by the driver of the Toyota.

Wendt reportedly told a Sheriff's deputy that he had been drinking beer that day while baling hay. Deputy Tim Wescott reported that Wendt demonstrated slurred speech, had the odor of alcohol and demonstrated poor coordination following the accident. He reportedly had a BAC of .08.

Judge Robert Noonan will hear oral arguments in the motions on Jan. 19.

Burns has also filed a standard number of motions to disclose evidence, open the Grand Jury minutes, dismiss the case on various grounds and suppress specific pieces of evidence on various legal grounds.

For previous coverage, click here (all previous stories on this topic are now tagged "Ronald J. Wendt").

December 8, 2009 - 4:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

ron_wendt_outside_court.jpgRonald J. Wendt, accused of driving drunk in Darien and getting into an accident that claimed the life of a Dansville girl, is back in jail.

Wendt had been released on $50,000 bail pending his trial, but on the condition he not drive (his license was revoked).

On Nov. 18, Wendt was stopped by a State Trooper in the Town of Batavia while riding a reportedly unregistered and uninsured dirt motor bike.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said Wendt readily admitted to the Trooper who he was and volunteered information about his case.  The Trooper arrested him and brought him before a Town of Batavia justice, who set his bail at $500, which Wendt immediately paid.

Friedman brought the arrest to the attention of Judge Robert Noonan, who ordered Wendt to appear in County Court.  Noonan adjusted Wendt's bail to $250,000.

Alcohol was not a factor in the latest arrest, Friedman said. 

He couldn't confirm whether Wendt was trying to get to work at the time of his arrest.

Wendt has not yet raised that bail amount.

Previously:

November 10, 2009 - 7:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

ron_wendt_outside_court.jpgIndicted on a rarely used aggravated vehicular manslaughter charge and facing up to 25 years in prison, 24-year-old Ron Wendt, Jr. appeared in County Court today to formally plead not guilty to all 11 felony accounts against him.

Wendt, a resident of Alexander, is out of jail on $50,000 bail and appeared before Judge Robert Noonan in navy blue slacks, a blue shirt and blue tie. His family was with him.

Also in court was the family of Katie Stanley, an 18-year-old girl who was a back-seat passenger in  a 1993 Toyota Camry on Aug. 14, when Wendt reportedly made a left-hand turn from Route 20 into the parking lot of My Saloon just as the Camry entered Darien Center.

The Camry struck the rear of Wendt's 2001 Dodge Ram truck.

Stanley died as result of the injuries she sustained in the accident.

Wendt was allegedly found later to have a BAC of .08.

His attorney, Thomas A. Burns, now has 45 days to file motions and prepare his case.

Previously:

October 28, 2009 - 11:49pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

A Grand Jury indictment has been handed down against Ronald J. Wendt, of Alexander, charging him with 11 felony counts stemming from an accident on Aug. 14 that claimed the life of an 18-year-old Dansville girl.

Among the charges against Wendt, 24, is aggravated vehicular manslaughter, a new statute in New York that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

WBTA spoke with District Attorney Lawrence Friedman about the unique charge.

Friedman said elements of the alleged crime, relevant to the more serious charge, is that it includes alleged reckless driving and causing serious injury to another person.

Wendt is represented by Batavia Attorney Thomas Burns, who issued a statement following Wendt's preliminary hearing in August challenging the validity of drunken-driving charges in this case.

In addition to challenging the actual charges, Burns asserted that there is ample evidence that Wendt was not intoxicated at the time of the accident.

Among key facts raised during the preliminary hearing were that Wendt passed one element of the road-side sobriety test.

Wendt was reportedly making a left-hand turn off Route 20 into the parking lot of My Saloon -- an area not far from where the speed limit changes from 55 down to 40 mph -- when his truck was struck by the car. It's unclear if the car left any skid marks.

According to testimony at the hearing, Wendt told Deputy Tim Wescott that he had a few beers, during and after work, on a nearby farm bailing hay. His BAC was reportedly right at .08 after the accident.

August 25, 2009 - 2:51pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Darien, Ronald J. Wendt.

Ronald J. Wendt, accused of vehicular manslaughter in the death of an 18-year-old Dansville girl, will have his case presented to a grand jury, Darien Town Justice Michael Davis ruled this afternoon.

wendt_leavingcourt.jpgDavis made his ruling following an hour-long hearing in which District Attorney Lawrence Friedman was required to prove the state has enough evidence to sustain a charge of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree.

Friedman called two witnesses: the Sheriff’s deputy who conducted the field sobriety test at the scene of the Aug. 14 accident and a young lady who was a passenger in the car with the teen-ager who died later that night.

The night of the accident Wendt was driving a 2001 Dodge Ram truck back from Attica, where he had been bailing hay most of the afternoon. He was headed westbound on Route 20.

Wendt made a left-hand turn into the parking lot of My Saloon when his truck was struck by a 1993 Toyota Camery.

Katie Stanley was a passenger in the right rear of the Camery. She sustained fatal injuries.

Neither the speed of the Toyota nor whether Stanley was wearing a safety belt was discussed during the testimony of Deputy Timothy Wescott.

Wescott spent more than an hour on the stand, mostly detailing the procedures and conclusions of the field sobriety test he conducted.

Shortly after he arrived at the accident scene, Wescott said Wendt approached him and said, "I'm the one you're looking for."

When Wescott asked Wendt what happened, Wescott testified that Wendt said, “I saw the vehicle coming. I thought I had time (to make the turn). I guess I didn’t.”

The Camery stuck the back portion of Wendt's truck.

Wescott did not conduct the accident investigation and could not say whether there were skid marks on the roadway.

The portion of Route 20 were the accident occurred is a short span of roadway that moves quickly from a 55 mph speed zone down to 40 and then back to 55.

Wescott testified that he smelled alcohol on the breath of Wendt and also detected slurred speech.

Wendt reportedly told Wescott that he had a couple of beers while bailing hay in Attica, then two or three beers after the work was done. He said, according ot Wescott, that he finished his last beer about 15 minutes before the accident.

Defense Attorney Thomas Burns honed in on the details of Wescott's field sobriety test, apparently trying to establish that Wendt was not impaired at the time of the accident.

Wendt failed all but one of the tests. Burns asked questions about the heavy boots Wendt was wearing at the time, and whether fatigue could play a role in Wendt's inability to successfully complete some of the tests -- it can, Wescott said.

The test Wendt passed involves a police officer holding a pen or other object in front of a suspect's eyes and asking the suspect to track the pen. The officer is looking for whether the suspect can smoothly track the pen, whether the eyes jump and whether the movements remain coordinated. Wendt passed that test.

A chemical test, however, conducted at 12:10 a.m. showed that Wendt's BAC was .08 of 1 percent, right at the limit of when a driver is considered intoxicated.

Once Wendt was at the Sheriff's station, Wescott testified, he expressed concern about the victims of the accident.

"He asked me a couple of times 'is every one OK?'" Wescott said. "He said he would deal with whatever happened to him, but  he wanted everybody to be OK."

Burns issued a statement following the hearing challenging the prosecution's conclusion that Wendt's conduct constitutes, as defined by New York State law, a "criminal cause of action."

"While we are acutely aware of the grief which the family of the deceased must be enduring, the plain fact is that not every motor vehicle fatality constitutes the basis to charge a motorist with a crime," Burns wrote.

Burns asserts that it is a common misperception that drinking and driving is illegal in New York.

"The plain fact is that it is not," Burns wrote. "Our state legislature, through the laws in effect, has determined that it is the responsibility of every motorist to determine for him/herself when they have had too much to drink. ... Simply stated, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in an intoxicated condition. We believe that there is ample evidence available which demonstrates that Mr. Wendt was not intoxicated at the time of accident occurred."

In addition to calling Wescott, Friedman also asked Gabrielle E. Mahus to testify. He asked only a couple of questions to establish that Mahus was at the scene of the accident, was aware that Stanley was taken away in an ambulance and had recently attended her funeral.

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