Rostraver man found guilty in crash that injured gun shop owner
A Westmoreland County man could be sentenced to up to 17 years in prison for driving drunk in a crash that severely injured a Rostraver man who was traveling in a motorized wheelchair alongside Route 136 two years ago.
A jury found Donald Eichler, 55, of Rostraver guilty of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, two counts of driving under the influence and hit and run.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for three hours Thursday before returning the verdict to Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.
Eichler was accused of driving drunk when his truck hit Byron White as he was traveling in the wheelchair alongside a dark stretch of Route 136 in Rostraver shortly before 6 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2012. White was traveling a short distance from his former business, The Gun Rack, to his home next door.
White and his wife were not present for the verdict, but Barbara White testified on the first day of the three-day trial. She told jurors that her husband had used a wheelchair for 11 years after suffering a series of strokes and he had started to use the motorized chair two days before the crash.
Barbara White testified she found her husband lying unconscious on the road. He suffered broken ribs and a fractured pelvis and requires specialized health care, she said.
Prosecutors argued that Eichler was driving erratically before the collision.
“The defendant knew he hit something and he knew that he was drunk, and that’s why he never stopped,” Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda told jurors in closing arguments. “We have him intentionally disregarding the fact that his drunk-driving condition is a substantial risk to others.”
Police found Eichler at his home, about 2 miles away on Salem Church Road. His blood-alcohol content about two hours and 30 minutes after the collision was 0.30 percent, prosecutors said.
A driver in Pennsylvania is considered to be drunk at 0.08 percent.
Defense attorney Chris Huffman suggested that Eichler drank when he got home after the accident.
“This is a very emotional case,” Huffman told jurors. “Mr. White came in here, all of our hearts broke for Mr. White … but accidents happen.”
Huffman argued that Eichler was not driving erratically and was simply trying to get home after he presumed he struck a deer.
Police found debris on the road that they linked to Eichler’s vehicle through a serial number.
Because it is considered a motor vehicle, White’s wheelchair should have had a headlight and reflectors, according to testimony.
“Just because Mr. White didn’t have a reflector on the rear of his wheelchair doesn’t mean that Mr. Eichler is not guilty of the offense,” Powanda argued.
Eichler will be sentenced in about 90 days. He has been incarcerated at the Westmoreland County Prison on $50,000 bail since November 2012.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].