Judge refuses to dismiss murder charge in crash that killed East Huntingdon pedestrian |

Judge refuses to dismiss murder charge in crash that killed East Huntingdon pedestrian

Rich Cholodofsky

A Westmoreland County judge on Thursday rejected a request from a New Stanton man to dismiss a charge of third-degree murder in connection with the death of a pedestrian killed when he was hit by a car on Christmas Eve 2016.

Prosecutors contend Matthew Ramsay, 31, was under the influence of methadone and other drugs when he allegedly swerved his vehicle deliberately as he drove along Ruffsdale Alverton Road in East Huntingdon and hit Joseph Cummins, who was walking his dog.

Cummins, 49, of East Huntingdon, died from injuries he suffered in the crash. Police said Ramsay fled the scene and attempted to hide his vehicle before he eventually was identified and confessed to being involved in the fatal crash, although he contended he didn’t realize he had hit a pedestrian.

Prosecutors charged Ramsay with the murder count and other offenses after learning he had methadone, Xanax and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash. Police said Ramsay admitted to having received a dose of methadone, used to treat heroin addiction, and although he was warned against using other medications at the same time, took the other drugs before driving.

Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani ruled against the defense, which claimed that, because Ramsay did not act with malice when Cummins was killed, the third-degree murder charge should be dismissed.

The judge, in his nine-page opinion, said the evidence against Ramsay shows he disregarded repeated warnings about the dangerous effects of mixing Xanax and methadone and that he consciously drove his vehicle while under the influence of those drugs. Evidence also indicated Ramsay drove recklessly as he swerved his vehicle back and forth across the two-lane road before Cummins was struck, the judge wrote.

“Additionally, the commonwealth alleges that Mr. Ramsay’s actions following the incident demonstrate indifference to the value of Mr. Cummins’ life as in spite of his windshield being smashed he drove on, covered the car with a tarp and resumed his Christmas shopping,” Feliciani wrote in his opinion.

The judge previously rejected a defense motion seeking to bar from evidence statements Ramsay made to police following the fatal crash.

Ramsay also is charged with vehicular homicide, driving while under the influence of controlled substances and traffic offenses. His trial is tentatively scheduled for March.

He previously has rejected guilty plea deals that would have resulted in his being sentenced to serve 10 to 30 years in prison.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]