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Experts dispute crash Senavitis trial may go to the jury on Monday

Published March 13. 2010 09:00AM

Several major developments were revealed yesterday during the trial for Thomas P. Senavitis, charged with vehicular manslaughter and DUI in the accident which claimed the life of State Senator James J. Rhoades.

Yesterday was the third day of the trial, being held in the Monroe County Court House.

Both the defense attorney and prosecutor said the trial will end on Monday and be placed in the hands of the jury.

In yesterday's testimony:

• An accident reconstruction expert testified that the senator crossed the center line of Route 209 and into the path of the pick-up truck being driven by Senavitis. This totally contradicts what a state police reconstruction expert said happened during testimony on Wednesday.

The trooper was called as a rebuttal witness Friday. He and the independent expert could not agree on various key factors about the accident, including the lane in which the crash occurred.

• The word "mistrial" was used by defense attorney Wieslaw T. Niemoczyski during a conference with the prosecutor with Judge Ronald E. Vican. Neither Niemoczyski nor Assistant District Attorney Colleen Mancuso would comment on this matter, but Judge Vican apparently denied the mistrial request.

• Senavitis, 46, of Kunkletown, told Judge Vican that he will not be testifying on his own behalf.

"I wish to not testify," he told the judge.

The attorneys said there will be one more person offering testimony when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday. It is a rebuttal witness from the Pa. State Police Crime Lab in Bethlehem.

The main testimony yesterday came from Kevin Theriault, 42, a self-employed accident reconstruction expert from Chesterfield, Virginia. Theriault said he was hired by the defendant's wife, Dolores Senavitis, to determine the cause of the accident.

The accident occurred at about 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17, on Route 209 near Brodheadsville. Sen. Rhoades and his wife Mary Edith were en route to Pleasant Valley High School where the senator was to be honored at the halftime ceremony of a football game.

Senavitis was traveling home after picking up his pay check at a Midas Shop in Stroudsburg and cashing it.

A pathologist testified on Thursday that Senavitis had a blood alcohol reading of .355 percent when he arrived at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, where he was flown from the accident scene.

On Wednesday, Cpl. Doug Shook of the Fern Ridge barracks testified that the accident happened in the northbound lane of Route 209, and that Senavitis had crossed into the path of Senator Rhoades.

Theriault disputed that account, boldly asserting that it is "literally impossible" for an accident to occur as Shoop testified.

He said gouges in the road, tire marks, damages to both vehicles, and a video shown by a videographer of Blue Ridge Communications TV-13 brought him to his conclusion.

He said he viewed photos of the vehicles and the crash scene that were taken by the daughter of Senavitis, Regina Rednar.

He also viewed various photos and reports that were entered into testimony by Cpl. Shook.

Theriault said he visited the crash scene Thursday afternoon but never looked at the vehicles involved in the accident.

According to Theriault's conclusion, the Cadillac driven by Senator Rhoades had its front passenger right corner in the southbound lane of Route 209 by five feet, while the pick-up truck of Senavitis was about 10 inches into the southbound lane. Considering a lane is about 10 feet wide, this means that Senator Rhoades was well into the Senavitis lane, according to the report by Theriault.

Attorney Mancuso was aggressive in her questioning of Theriault, but he refused to deviate from his findings, which, he said, were also "based on crush patterns of the two vehicles."

When Cpl. Shoop was called to the witness stand as a rebuttal witness, he didn't back down from his Wednesday testimony that the full impact occurred in the northbound lane of Route 209, the lane in which the Rhoades vehicle was driving.

"I do not agree with his depiction," said Cpl. Shoop of the Theriault conclusion.

Attorney Mancuso asked Cpl. Shoop, "Do you have any doubt where the collision occurred?"

"No," answered the veteran state trooper.

Theriault was once again returned to the witness stand, and again disagreed with Cpl. Shoop's report.

Also testifying yesterday were Paul Snyder, a member of the West End Fire Company, Brodheadsville, and Trooper Cory Dodson of the Fern Ridge barracks of the state police.

Snyder said the accident happened in the southbound lane of Route 209, which was the Senavitis lane.

The firefighter also testified that Senavitis was unconscious inside his pick-up truck when Snyder arrived. Asked if any odor of alcohol was apparent from the Senavitis pick-up truck, Snyder said, "I didn't smell anything."

Trooper Dodson gave testimony about obtaining a search warrant to obtain a vial of Senavitis's blood from St. Luke's Hospital, Bethlehem, to be tested in the Bethlehem police lab.

In the accident which claimed the life of Senator Rhoades, both his wife and Senavitis were critically injured, but recovered.

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