Prosecutor: Off-duty Erie police officer caused fatal DUI
Three motorists were legally drunk during a fatal accident on Route 99 in McKean Township in February 2017, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
But only one of those three motorists, a prosecutor told a jury on Monday, caused the crash — Cheryl A. Frey, an off-duty Erie police officer whose blood-alcohol content was 0.232 percent, or nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
The victim was 57-year-old Wade A. Schulze, whose BAC was 0.11 percent, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Lightner said. But, Lightner also said, “there is no scintilla of evidence that he did anything wrong.”
Lightner detailed the case against Frey in his opening statement in her trial, which is expected to last through the week in the courtroom of Judge William R. Cunningham.
Frey, 47, faces charges including homicide by vehicle while DUI, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI and involuntary manslaughter in the crash, which killed Schulze upon impact at about 12:20 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2017. Frey was seriously injured and has recovered.
Frey’s lawyer, Andrew Sissini, deferred his opening statement until after Lightner presents the prosecution’s case. But Sissini said at a previous hearing that Frey believes Schulze played a significant role in the crash.
In his opening statement, Lightner attempted to offset the defense’s expected argument by focusing on what he said was Frey’s sole culpability in causing the accident.
State police charged that Frey was driving drunk when her 2013 Subaru Crosstrek crossed into the opposing lane of traffic as she traveled north on Route 99, just north of Old Route 99, and struck Schulze’s southbound Honda Civic.
Lightner said the evidence will show that Frey was driving about 57 mph in a 55-mph zone, but did not brake before the crash. He said Frey had also been taking an anti-depressant and other drugs and told police that she did not remember what happened before the accident.
Lightner suggested that she might have fallen asleep. He said the head-on collision was so severe that Schulze, who was wearing a seatbelt, had his rib cage ripped from his sternum.
The crash, Lightner told the jury, was “horrific, incredibly violent and completely avoidable.” The collision, he also said, was of “almost incomprehensible force.”
Also charged in connection with the crash was 36-year-old Danny C. Hamilton, of Edinboro, whose southbound Hyundai Elantra crashed into Frey’s Subaru after she had struck Schulze’s Honda, police said. His BAC at the time of the crash was 0.204 percent, the prosecution said.
Hamilton received 30 days of electronic monitoring followed by five months of probation for a misdemeanor count of DUI and two summary counts to which he pleaded guilty.
Lightner on Monday also brought up Hamilton’s case, but again emphasized that, according to the evidence, only Frey was at fault in the fatal accident. Lightner said videotapes from two bars — the St. Francis Ushers Club, on Route 99, and the Valley Inn, on Old Route 99 — would show that Frey, starting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2017, had at least 13 drinks before the accident, with 11 of the drinks at St. Francis Ushers Club. He said the drinks were either mixed drinks or shots, but no beer.
“She is drinking drink after drink,” Lightner said.
The case against Frey took an indirect path to trial.
Frey previously pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony count of homicide by vehicle while DUI and a misdemeanor count of DUI in a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office that dropped six other charges against her.
Prosecutors reinstated those charges when Frey withdrew her plea at what had been scheduled to be her sentencing hearing in March. Sisinni at that hearing said Frey believed Schulze played a role in the accident.
Frey is free on 10 percent of $30,000 bail. An Erie police officer since 2008, she was suspended without pay after she waived her preliminary hearing in the fatal DUI case in June 2017.