Meshoppen Man Not Guilty of Homicide by Vehicle Charge
By D.C. Koviack
Kenneth Kramer of Meshoppen stood trial Oct. 19 on charges of felony homicide by vehicle, misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, misdemeanor reckless endangerment and summary violations in a case that began in December of 2009.
Last Wednesday, Kramer was found not guilty by a jury of the criminal charges; he was found guilty of the summary offenses. These were driving an unregistered vehicle, reckless driving and driving on roadways not laned for traffic. Kramer will have to pay fines totaling $300, and court costs on these offenses.
Kramer had been charged with running down 13-year-old Michael Zacjakowski of Meshoppen on Dec. 12, 2009. Zacjakowski later died as a result of injuries sustained when Kramer’s truck hit the youth’s bicycle. Zacjakowski and a friend, Tristan Vaow, were riding their bikes on the berm of Route 6 in Meshoppen Township at about 5:30 p.m. on the afternoon in question.
At the preliminary hearing late in 2010, defense attorney Deborah Albert-Heise made her case that what had taken place last December was a tragic, horrific accident but not a crime. She said her client had not had the required mindset for the incident to be a crime: i.e., that “mens rea” or “guilty mind” was not an element. She said Kramer had been surprised by the boy “suddenly appearing” in front of his vehicle.
Albert-Heise cited six different cases in both the PA Supreme and Superior Courts, which had bearing on the case because they required an element of recklessness, which she said was absent in the Kramer case. “Vehicular homicide...specifically require(s) an element of recklessness,” Albert-Heise said. “The defendant must not only choose to act in a reckless manner, but know the action is reckless and do it anyway. My client did not know there was someone riding a bicycle on the berm of the road. Therefore he couldn’t have perceived his movement towards the berm as reckless or negligent.”
DA Jeff Mitchell maintained that Kramer’s actions on the night in question, in particular his moving towards the berm in preparation for a right hand turn and failing to see Zacjakowski on his bicycle on the berm were sufficient to uphold the recklessness and negligence requirement. At last week’s trial, the jury found the defense’s case to have more merit than the prosecution’s, and cleared Kramer of all charges.
Albert-Heise commented, “Mr. Kramer and I are very relieved by the jury’s verdict. This was a horrible tragedy for everyone involved, but it did not amount to a criminal act. Mr. Kramer has and continues to be extremely sympathetic to the family of the victim, and he wishes this accident never happened. He is still haunted by the events of that day, and he will be for the rest of his life.” Albert-Heise added that she believed that justice had been done in the matter, and thanked the jurors for their time and effort.