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Ronald J. Wendt II

September 28, 2010 - 3:44pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, Alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt II.

UPDATED at 5:04 p.m.

ron_wendt_outside_court.jpgRonald J. Wendt II, 25, of Alexander, is guilty of DWI and aggravated vehicular homicide in the death of 18-year-old Katie Stanley on Aug. 14, 2009, a Genesee County jury concluded today.

The jury also convicted Wendt of the nine other counts against him, including vehicular manslaughter, 2nd, which carries a possible 25-year prison term.

The jury deliberated less than two hours after hearing more than four days of testimony in which defense attorney Thomas Burns tried to establish that Wendt wasn't legally intoxicated at the time of the accident and that the actions of the driver of the other car, Rachel Enderle, 27, of Dansville, contributed to the accident.

"I don't want to get into anything about the case other than to say I'm disappointed in the verdict," Burns said. "That's about all I have to say."

While the speed of the verdict surprised Burns, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said the quick decision shows the people had a solid case on all charges against Wendt.

"I'm very pleased for Katie's family and the other victims of the crash," Friedman said. "Justice was served."

In the hours before the accident, Wendt worked with a friend baling hay in Attica. Toward the end of the workday, they began drinking beer. According to William D. Marchisin, 35, of Darien, Wendt and he each had as many as six beers prior to the accident, including one about 15 minutes beforehand.

The duo was going to stop off at My Saloon for "just one more" when Wendt decided to make a left-hand turn off Route 20 right in front of Enderle's oncoming car.

Stanley, also of Dansville, was riding in the right rear passenger seat.

Friedman acknowledged that people drink and drive in Genesee County every day and they rarely wind up involved in a fatal car accident.

"Obviously, the vast majority believe nothing like this happens, but that's the reason we have these laws," Friedman said. "I'm sure this defendant never expected anything like this could ever happen to him, but that's what the problem is, you never know. Anybody who is driving while intoxicated could find themselves in this situation."

Sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 15. Friedman said he hasn't even started to think about a sentencing recommendation.

Burns said there will be an appeal, but as is his policy, he won't represent Wendt in the appeal.

Photo: File photo of Ron Wendt.

September 25, 2010 - 3:41pm
posted by Billie Owens in crime, Darien, accident, Ronald J. Wendt II.

The DWI trial of Ronald J. Wendt II hit a snag late Friday afternoon when the prosecution elicited testimony regarding the equipment used in the accident-scene investigation.

Without the jury present, Judge Robert Noonan questioned the admissibility of information about the Nikon Total Station, Vista FX (6th Edition) and Crashnet, saying case law and the equipments' use in other jurisdictions needed to be researched before he could make a ruling.

As a result, fact-finding in the case, which was expected to conclude by 5 o'clock, was reconvened until Monday at 1:30 p.m.

(The judge has another matter to handle Monday morning.)

All but perhaps two or three people present were in for a lesson in modern technology.

It began with the testimony of Genesee County Sheriff's Deputy Ronald E. Meides, who has nearly 20 years of service and was named Officer of the Year in 2009.

He took the stand at 3:30 p.m. and detailed his training, which included 14 weeks of field training, in accident-scene investigations and said he had handled about 1,000 of them, but only 20 serious enough to warrant an extensive report.

Meides investigated the accident scene in front of My Saloon in Darien in mid-August last year. Under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Kevin Finnell, he said the process includes viewing the scene, collecting data, observing the vehicles involved, noting skids marks, gouges in the pavement and environmental factors.

Measurements of tire marks, etc., are taken, in this case, on the day following the accident -- in the daytime on Aug. 15. Meides said the places where the vehicles came to rest had been spray painted and other physical evidence noted. Reference points are also noted -- a nearby drainage basin, a telephone pole, curb cut-outs, driveways, and the front porch of My Saloon.

A week later the officer went to Parisee's automotive shop in Alexander where the Sheriff's department secures and stores vehicles. He measured the "crushed profiles" of driver Rachel Enderle's Toyota Camry and defendant Wendt's Dodge Ram extended-cab pickup.

All of the data is stored in an electronic measuring device -- the Nikon Total Station -- and downloaded into a computer. Then a picture is drawn around the "data points" shown on the screen. The resulting diagram was projected in the courtroom Friday for the jurors to see.

The gist of Finnell's questions and Meides' answers seemed to indicate that this nifty tool used in creating the diagram can determine approach angles, (impact) departure angles, distances, points of impact, resting points, speed and on and on.

All ready to go for it, Finnell then asked "What happened in this accident?"

Defense Attorney Thomas Burns objected, saying there was no foundation established to allow testimony indicating the equipment is standard and accurate.

The jury was recessed and the judge left the courtroom to do a bit of research.

When Noonan returned, with the jury still out, he said his "research shows the Nikon Total Station has not been cited in any case in New York or elsewhere in the United States.

"Absent some indication by this or some other witness, that the Nikon Total Station is generally accepted, I can't allow testimony about it. I've never heard of it, know nothing about it, just that you put data in and get information. The objection is sustained."

But after all this took place, Finnell did his own research during a break and then offered that, well, Vista FX is really the computer-aided draft (CAD) software used in doing the calculations, the Nikon gadget is only a measuring tool -- a fancy tape measure, so to speak.

Noonan, who seemed rather exasperated, said that's the first he'd ever heard about the Vista FX, since no one brought it up before, and he asked if it was  "judicially recognized for admissibility purposes?"

At that point, close to 4:30, the prosecutors, including District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, scrambled to find a credible witness to testify about the widespread acceptibility of Vista FX. The judge, too, left the room briefly to research this thing, and upon his return announced that his efforts "were equally unfruitful."

But Finnell persisted, saying "It's a valid software program, a CAD program, widely used."

"Then we need to lay that foundation," Noonan said.

Whereupon, finally, Sheriff's Sgt. William C. Scott, who had left the courthouse only shortly before, returned and took the oath to testify.

Scott, with 21 years of service and hundreds of crash-scene investigations to his credit, told of his familiarity with Vista FX and the Nikon Total Station. These, he said, are routinely used by law enforcement, fire inspectors, engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Nikon Total Station uses a "reflective prism" to measure distance and other data and the Vista FX software is a CAD program which uses the Nikon information to map out the scene. These are specially geared for use by law and fire departments and in Genesee County they've been employed for 10 years, according to Scott.

"Once you put in the data, what does it give you?" the judge asked Scott.

"Points on a screen," the sargeant replied, which you can label and ID beforehand on the Nikon.

"Do these instruments calculate speed, direction?" Noonan asked, trying to put all the pieces together.

"No, not in and of itself," Scott explained, sort of. "They are used for you to make your own determinations. The program (Vista FX) can be input with information for it to calculate...the mathematics for crash measurements."

Scott said he was trained to use Vista FX by the vendor himself and his salesman.

Burns asked if Vista FX can calculate the results, if requested, for speeds of vehicles at the time of impact, or provide estimates of the kinetic energy, or amount of force, in a crash.

Yes, Scott said, he uses Vista FX and measurements gathered from other sources to glean information to feed into yet another wonder of the modern world, Crashnet.

This is a software program comprised of 150 mathematical equations, embedded in Vista FX, to provide answers once figures are manually put in. For example, the momentum of a bicycle involved in an accident with a car.

Burns asked if other members of the Sheriff's Department were also trained in Crashnet and Scott said that four or five others were trained the first week it was acquired.

This is also employed by the Sheriff's offices in Niagara and Chautauqua counties, among other organizations, Scott said.

"Have they put that before a court? Has it been used in any court?" Burns asked.

"I don't know," Scott responded.

"This is new territory," Noonan said. "I know you want me to make a ruling today, but I want to look into this a little more before reconvening (the jury)."

Eighteen-year-old Katie Stanley died in the crash Wendt is on trial for. She was a front-seat passenger in Rachel's car when it slammed into the side of Wendt's truck just after 11 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2009.

September 24, 2010 - 9:45pm
posted by Timothy Walton in batavia, dwi, genesee county court, Ronald J. Wendt II.

The case against Ronald J. Wendt II continued today in Genesee County Court with testimony from Deputy Tim Westcott and then Sgt. Brian Frieday.

Deputy Westcott was asked questions by the District Attorney Lawrence Friedman regarding the condition of Wendt at the time of the arrest. When asked if Wendt showed any indications of injury at the time of the accident, he replied with "no."

Wescott stated he was not aware of Wendt's purported forearm injury until after the arrest. When asked about whether he was aware of a pre-existing knee injury, saw any signs of allergies or knew of any allergies that Wendt had, Deputy Westcott responded with "no."

Friedman then asked Deputy Westcott if he had any doubts in his mind about the accuracy of the details in the arrest report and again the response was "no."

It was stated in the report that the last drink that Wendt consumed was at 10:50 p.m. and the accident occured at 11:08 p.m.

Westcott added testimony that when he asked Wendt, after he was under arrest, to submit to a chemical test, Wendt replied with "I don't know" and later consented after he was informed of the consequences if he did not.

Deputy Westcott also testified that, in his opinion, the flashing lights from the emergency vehicles would not have had any effect on Wendt's eyes while performing field sobriety tests, since the officer was facing the lights, not Wendt.

Frieday was called to the stand next. He supervises the midnight shift for the Genesee County Sheriff's Department and is the department's breath analyst advisor. He maintains the records of DataMaster breath tests, including the one given to Wendt the night of the accident.

Frieday testified that the DataMaster is sent to Albany once a year to be re-calibrated and tested to maintain its accuracy. Plus, every six months tests are performed on the machine over a phone line. He added that the supervisor also gives weekly simulated tests.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell then asked him how a BAC is reported on the DataMaster. Frieday said it is recorded in the machine up to three decimal places, but is only displayed on the machine in two. Thus, if a BAC was recorded in the DataMaster at 0.099 it would only be seen on the display and recorded as a 0.09 BAC.

Finnell then provided Frieday with documentation showing that the machine was calibrated accurately and Frieday testified that it was and that the DataMaster also operated properly the night of the crash.

During cross-examination, Defense Attorney Thomas Burns questioned Frieday about the accuracy of the results. Frieday stated that the DataMaster takes breath samples and uses mathematic equations to calculate the BAC, since actual blood samples are not tested.

Burns argued that the equation, which is based on the average person, is not the same for each person, therefore it could not be 100-percent accurate. Frieday subsequently testified that the fixed ratio is higher than the average person, therefore the BAC reading would actually tend to show lower than it really was.

Frieday said that the time that it takes to absorb alcohol into the blood stream depends on different variables including the amount of food in a person's stomach and how much they have eaten.

He testified that after 15 minutes it "would not be absorbed into the blood stream fully."

When asked by Burns if it could take upwards of two to three hours to fully absorb alcohol in the body, Frieday stated that it was possible and would be on the upward side of the absorption.

When asked if it could still be absorbing into the blood stream even after four hours, Frieday responded by saying "I have heard that number, I recall that number, yes."

The judge then dismissed the case until 2 p.m.

September 24, 2010 - 1:26pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, crime, Ronald J. Wendt II.

The expert witness for the defense in the Ronald J. Wendt II trial was grilled Thursday afternoon by the prosecution, which brought out some discrepancies in testimony given years ago in other trials.

Fran Gengo, Ph.D, 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.

His testimony yesterday concerned the rate of alcohol absorption in the body, the accuracy of breath analysis devices, specifically the DataMaster, and criteria for determining a person's level of intoxication.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell asked if alcohol can have an impact on a person's perception, eye-tracking ability, motor skills and cognition.

Gengo said he had to qualify his answer, "depending on the concentration amount."

According to testimony given in a trial on April 10, 2007 in Michigan, Finnell told Gengo, "you said you believe you can look at a person and determine if he's been drinking."

Gengo said, yes, but not whether that person was intoxicated. Finnell countered by saying Gengo back then said he could tell someone's BAC by looking at them, which Gengo flatly denied.

Back and forth they went, with Finnell asking a question and saying "that's a yes or no," and Gengo hesitating and saying the prosecutor was "mischaracterizing his words."

Finnell also asked him about his voluntary participation in unpaid activities, specifically  "grand rounds," a sort of group discussion with students and other professionals about medical, pharmacologic and related topics.

The witness on several occasions, including this inquiry, looked puzzled by Finnell's questions, as though he could not ascertain their relevance.

Finnell asked him if he was paid for his testimony, yes, Gengo replied, $500 to research and decide whether to take a case, and $3,500 for preparation and testimony.

Finnell pointed out that his prices had gone up since 2004, when he charged $2,000 for preparation and testimony. Finnell asked Gengo if favorable defense testimony resulted in more clients, therefore more money in his pockets.

Gengo replied that no, it didn't, his career was more dependant upon his credibility regardless of a trial's outcome, and furthermore, he accepts on only one of every six cases he encounters.

Then they parsed over how correct the calibration was of the DataMaster breathylizer once it left the factory with a rate of .002 accuracy in detecting the amount of alcohol in a person's system. Gengo maintained that, although that standard was higher than the state's .005 standard, the "instrument alone" shouldn't be the determining factor, rather a person's biology, whether they have eaten, their body-mass index, gender, are part of the picture as well.

"The mathematical calculations in some instances are arbitrary," Gengo said.

Inevitably, they went into the inscrutable territory of "partition co-efficients," citing an esteemed Swissman, Dr. Allen Jones's body of work and when and how Gengo's statements differed with this colleague, a man Gengo "had the pleasure of dining with on at least three occasions."

Jones has written, according to Finnell, that the body's rate of alcohol absorption is between five minutes to two hours. Gengo said that was wrong, he believes it to be 45 minutes to two to three hours. The provider of the course materials used to train officers, Intoxometer Co., claims it is 15 minutes to two hours.

"But that is not complete absorption," Gengo said. "It is the time of peak absorption. (In detecting alcohol levels) breath overtakes blood until absorption is complete."

On re-direct examination, Defense Attorney Thomas Burns asked Gengo if he was aware of any jurisdiction where two blows into a breathylizer are mandated. Yes, Dengo replied, but not in New York.

"I don't recall any case where they had the same numbers twice," Gengo said, although they are usually "within a narrow margin."

Gengo was able to explain that a "partition co-efficient" says that for every 2,100 molecules of alcohol in one's breath, there is one molecule in the blood.

This tends to "grossly underestimate the variance of alcohol levels of subjects in the field versus the laboratory."

For example, he said, if a person is running a fever, that can result in a higher number of molecules of alcohol in the blood.

After Gengo's testimony, Sheriff's Deputy Tim Wescott was recalled to the stand. Under questioning by Burns, the officer said he did not ask Wendt at the accident scene about his physical condition, whether or when he had eaten or slept, if he wore contacts and if he was injured.

But when placing handcuffs on him later, Wendt told the officer his left forearm was injured in the accident. Asked if that could have had an impact on his balance during the field sobriety tests, the officer said, yes, if could have.

Asked if he had looked inside Wendt's truck to ascertain any damage inside the cabin on the driver's side, Wescott said no, because he's "not the tallest man in the world" and it would have been difficult to do from a street level.

September 23, 2010 - 1:35pm
posted by Billie Owens in crime, Alexander, Darien, Ronald J. Wendt II.

Tim Wescott has spent 10 of his 12 years with the Genesee County Sheriff's Department on road patrol. It is a job he has trained extensively for and kept up to date on.

Under questioning from District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, Wescott told jurors in the Ronald J. Wendt II trial Wednesday afternoon, that he has taken courses at three different community colleges on how to conduct driver field sobriety tests and use the equipment to do so.

And yet despite the possibility that Wendt, too, may have been injured in the accident, though not obviously so -- perhaps he hit his head or tweaked his neck or back -- the deputy did not ask Wendt how he was or if he was injured.

Under cross-examination from defense Attorney Thomas Burns, Wescott testified that he wasted no time in performing field sobriety tests, which Wendt performed poorly.

Burns asked Wescott if his education included any medical training with regard to head trauma and concussions. He asked if he had learned about the possible effects of back or head injuries on tests for balance, coordination and mental functioning. No, Wescott said.

Burns asked if he was taught to ask about possible injuries before conducting sobriety tests.

"I don't know if I'm required to ask him," Wescott said. "I didn't."

Wescott testified that he was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the accident scene on Aug. 14, 2009, in front of My Saloon on Broadway Road in Darien. That was at 11:13 p.m. -- four minutes after the first 9-1-1 call was received by dispatch (11:08 p.m.) and relayed to the officer at 11:09 p.m.

He estimated he conducted the intox tests on Wendt about 10 minutes after arrival and arrested him for DWI at 11:37.

The first thing Wescott noticed when he arrived at the crash was three damaged vehicles, Wendt's maroon pickup, Rachel Enderle's Toyota Camry, and a black truck that was parked in the lot. The Camry and Wendt's truck had both spun around as a result the impact of the crash.

Mercy EMS had one subject in an ambulance, a man in the roadway being worked on by medics, and he saw two women involved in the accident walking around. It was choatic, with bar patrons and others milling around, too.

Wescott said he spoke briefly with Rachel, the driver of the Toyota who struck Wendt's truck when he pulled in front of her as he made a left-hand turn into the My Saloon parking lot. He said there was no indication she had been drinking.

He was trying to get information about Wendt's truck, which was missing a front license plate, when Wendt approached him and said "I'm the one you're looking for."

Wendt told the officer he had come from a residence in Attica, was stopping for one (beer) and "thought he had time to turn."

"He had bloodshot, glassy eyes, some slurred speach and the odor of alcohol on his breath," the deputy said, who then asked if he'd been drinking.

Wendt said he had a few beers and then added "You might as well have me blow and take me to jail." The deputy said he'd rather have him do field sobriety tests.

The officer then detailed the standard tests given and what are called "clues" as to the person's inebriation. No single test can conclusively determine if a person is intoxicated, he noted. But Wendt did not pass any test "cluelessly."

Wendt told the officer he'd had four or five beers throughout the day while baling hay with a friend and had drank his last one about 15 minutes before the accident, which killed Rachel's back-seat passenger, 18-year-old Katie Stanley, of Dansville.

"He said he was slowing down, with his turn-signal on, and thought he had time to make the turn but said he guessed he didn't," Wescott said.

At the scene, it was determined that Wendt had no registration for his pickup, no current inspection sticker, his plate had been "voluntarily surrendered," and his only ID was an expired motorcycle driver's license.

After he was arrested and taken to jail, his picture was taken and it was shown to the jury yesterday. He looked slightly sunburned, unshaven, with reddish, tired-looking eyes. After being read his Miranda warnings and being interviewed by Wescott, he signed a voluntary statement about the accident at 1:13 a.m. Wescott said his demeanor, sobriety, or lack thereof, had not changed from his first encounter with him.

In other testimony Wednesday, Sheriff's Investigator Steve Mullen explained to jurors how a video recreating the moments leading up to the accident was made. They were not shown the video, however. One was made in daylight, another at night, earlier this year.

A key point was determining how far one can see cars coming down Route 20 eastbound from the roadway in front of My Saloon. Wendt had been heading westbound. It was estimated that one could see "several hundred yards" up the road, which then dips down at midway at the cemetery before rising, making cars visible again.

The speed limit goes from 55 to 40 east of the cemetery. In making the video, the eastbound driver was instructed to go 55 then take his foot off the gas pedal and start to brake at the 40 mph sign. The driver reached a speed of 45 mph by the time he got to My Saloon. How fast Rachel was driving is one of the points of contention in the case.

The other person who took the stand Wednesday was Rachel's cousin, Tim Enderle. Heavyset, 22, and a resident of North Chili, he testified that he, Rachel, Katie and Gabby Mahus had left a concert at Darien Lake early to avoid rowdy crowds. He was the front-seat passenger. They were on Route 20 heading to Rachel's house in Dansville.

"I noticed headlights up ahead, I try to notice everything, I think that's my responsibility as a passenger," Tim said. "I noticed the headlights shook a little bit -- as though somebody was deciding whether to turn."

He said he thought the truck was going "at a pretty high rate of speed and it sort of veered into the parking lot. He said Rachel was staying in her lane, looking ahead and was in no way distracted.

"I barely had time to put my arm up on the dashboard, I guess it was less than a car length in front of us," Tim said. "I took a deep breath. The crash was instantaneous. I could barely breathe. I smelled smoke, it was horrible."

Tim's window was rolled up and his door was jammed shut afterward. He said he looked at the others in the car and noticed Rachel and Gabby were OK, but Katie was not and blood was coming out of her nose area. When they were able to get him out of the vehicle, he tried to stand but felt an excruciating pain in his leg and fell to the ground.

He saw Katie on a guerney being taken to the ambulance.

"I noticed her arm was dangling down," he said. "I reached up and put it on her stomach."

He was taken to UMMC, then to Strong where underwent surgery on his leg and hip and spent weeks and weeks in rehab. He suffered a dislocated hip, two fractured vertabrae and his "femural head was driven up into his leg." Afterward, he spent months at home in a wheelchair, then a walker. He still has terrible pain, including while he was testifying, he said.

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