A truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel in September 2010 and crashed into a parked truck on Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania killing the driver was found guilty of homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter and faces up to 12 years in prison.
Richard D. Pedota, 49, of Woodside, N.Y., told investigators he left the YRC Trucking service center in Harrisburg on Sept. 2, 2010, and was heading to New Jersey when he fell asleep and hit a stopped rig, which Mario Chacon, 52, of Palmer Township had pulled off to the side of the road. Chacon was killed and three other people were injured in the accident that caused a massive fire that created a plume of smoke that could be seen for miles, according to the Allentown Morning Call.
During a nonjury trial before Northampton County Judge Leonard Zito, prosecutors and Pedota’s defense team agreed that the trucker was not speeding, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and had not been driving for an excessive period. They also agreed he fell asleep or blacked out behind the wheel and that led to Chacon’s death.
Zito determined that there was no medical evidence that Pedota blacked out, and that falling asleep is always proceeded by warning signs that Pedota did not heed.
“We conclude that the defendant violated the above motor vehicle ordinances in a ‘reckless’ or ‘grossly negligent manner,’ by falling asleep at the wheel of his tractor-trailer, proximately causing the death of Mario Chacon,” Zito wrote in his 10-page opinion.
“When you are driving one of these big rigs, it’s like driving a potential bomb down the highway,” said District Attorney John Morganelli. “It was a terrible accident, but the judge made the right decision. We must send the message to commercial truckers that they are driving a vehicle that could cause mass destruction. They must heed the warnings.”
Morganelli told the Call he expects the case will end up before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on appeal. Pedota will be sentenced at a later date.