Moon man guilty of homicide by vehicle

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When Charles Britt got out of his car and stood partially in the right lane of traffic on Route 65 in Leetsdale last year, arguing at 3 a.m. with a woman in the back seat of his vehicle, his blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.

When Shontelle Harvey, 41, of Moon, struck Britt in that lane, killing him, Mr. Harvey's blood alcohol level was higher than that.

But defense attorney Patrick Thomassey tried to argue that had Britt not been driving drunk, had he not improperly pulled off the road, and had he not been too drunk to realize the risk of standing in the traffic lane, he would not have been killed.

"The common denominator is causation," Mr. Thomassey said. "They must show there was a direct cause between the defendant's actions and the death of the victim."

Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III found there was one, and on Monday he found Mr. Harvey guilty of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and of all the other counts against him, including leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

He will be sentenced Aug. 5.

According to the prosecution's witnesses, Britt, who had a friend with him in the front seat, had driven to a bar in Ambridge to give a ride to three women headed to Wilkinsburg.

They were traveling south on Route 65 about 3 a.m. Aug. 18, when he got in an argument with one of the women in the back seat about who was paying the $40 for the ride. He pulled his white, four-door sedan onto the side of the road but not completely out of the travel lane.

According to testimony, Britt, 67, of Penn Hills, got out of the vehicle, opened the back door, struck the woman and told her he'd leave her on the side of the road.

The women inside tried to calm him, and he agreed to get back in. He closed the back door, and as he was about to open his door, he was struck by a white Lincoln Navigator, driven by Mr. Harvey.

Chareese Huff, who was also heading southbound to work at Pittsburgh International Airport at the time, said she saw Britt standing outside his car in the roadway, when the SUV sped up and was about to pass in the right lane.

The cars were nearly side by side when she heard the thud.

"It just kept going," she said of the vehicle driven by Mr. Harvey. "It looked like he was going to brake and stop and then just kept going."

On cross-examination, Ms. Huff said Mr. Harvey had no space to swerve around Britt because the vehicle she was in was next to his.

Mr. Harvey, whose vehicle had extensive damage to the front passenger side, kept driving and was spotted a few miles later by a Sewickley police officer.

During closing arguments, Mr. Thomassey told Judge Williams that Britt had consumed nine drinks that night, was stumbling and driving too fast.

But Judge Williams cut him off, saying that didn't discount that Mr. Harvey was drunk.

"If everything you're saying is true ... does all that marginalize your client from being drunk? Does that make any difference in this gentleman's duty to negotiate away [from the victim]?" the judge asked.

Judge Williams said that Mr. Harvey admitted being able to see Britt and tried to pass him -- instead of slowing down and changing lanes.

"The facts establish gross negligence," the judge said.

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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