Attorney in Rostraver resident’s DUI trial: Man’s wheelchair had no reflectors, lights |
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Rich Cholodofsky

Byron White was left for dead on a rural road in front of his Rostraver home when a pickup slammed into the new, customized wheelchair he had started to use two days before, his wife told a Westmoreland County jury on Tuesday.

Her testimony occurred during the first day in the assault and drunken-driving trial of the man police said was driving the pickup.

Westmoreland County prosecutors contend Donald Eichler, 55, of Rostraver was drunk shortly before 6 p.m. Nov. 6, 2012, when his truck hit the wheelchair as White traveled a short distance from his gun shop to his home next door along Route 136.

Eichler is charged with aggravated assault while driving drunk, causing an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury and two counts of drunken driving.

“He said that going home he hit a deer, but he didn’t know what he hit,” Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda said in his opening statement. “He struck the rear of a wheelchair and propelled (White) onto his front lawn.”

Powanda told jurors that Eichler’s blood-alcohol content two hours after the crash was more than 0.30 percent, or nearly four times the limit a motorist in Pennsylvania is considered to be intoxicated.

Prosecutors contend Eichler sped away from the crash scene. Police found debris on the roadway that they linked to Eichler’s pickup through a serial number. Eichler, who lived within a mile of the crash scene, was arrested less than two hours later.

Barbara White testified her husband used a wheelchair for 11 years after suffering a series of strokes in 2001 and had just begun using the motorized wheelchair.

His wife found him lying unconscious in the roadway. As a result of the broken ribs and a fractured pelvis he suffered, he requires specialized health care, she said.

The couple had to sell their gun shop because they were unable to run the business after the crash, she testified.

“He is in constant pain. Mentally, he is totally shattered,” Barbara White testified.

The defense is not contesting that Eichler was the driver or that he was drunk.

Defense attorney Chris Huffman told jurors that Eichler couldn’t see White on the road because there were no reflectors or lights on his wheelchair.

“What happened that night was an unforeseeable accident,” Huffman said in his opening statement. “He did not expect to see anybody on the roadway.”

The trial before Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio will continue Wednesday.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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