Fatal Snydertown Road crash case held for court
SUNBURY - A 20-year-old criminal justice major charged with homicide by vehicle in connection with a friend's death is finding out the hard way how the legal system works in his attempt to avoid a conviction and prison sentence.
Hasan Mustafa Abuomar, of 239 S. Hickory St., Mount Carmel, was held for court Wednesday afternoon by Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum on multiple charges, including felonies of homicide by vehicle and aggravated assault by vehicle (two counts), and a misdemeanor of involuntary manslaughter, after two survivors of the July 16 crash along Snydertown Road in Upper Augusta Township testified he grabbed the steering wheel of a 2001 Pontiac Sunfire driven by Marcelle R. Barber, 18,of Mount Carmel, shortly before it went out of control and landed on its roof.
Barber was killed in the 12:45 a.m. crash.
The defendant, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, remains free on bail.
He waived his right to formal arraignment in the Court of Common Pleas and was ordered to appear for a pre-trial conference at 1:15 p.m. March 7 at the conclusion of his one-hour preliminary hearing that also included testimony from the arresting officer.
Tyler Karycki, then 21, of Mount Carmel, testified that all four friends were riding around in his vehicle in Mount Carmel and stopped in the Town Park area before traveling to Sheetz in Elysburg. Karycki, who was driving, said the group then returned to Mount Carmel so Barber could get her license and drive the car.
The witness said the foursome then rode along Snydertown Road with Barber as the driver.
Karycki said he was sitting in the passenger front seat, while Bailey was seated in the rear behind Barber, and Abuomar was sitting in the back passenger side of the car.
Imitating driving style
The witness recalled dropping food on the floor and going to retrieve it when he felt the car shaking before hearing Barber scream. "When I looked up, both Marcel and Hasan had the wheel and the car was out of control," he said.
Karycki said he remembered Abuomar telling Barber before he grabbed the wheel with his right hand, "You got to do it like a man."
He assumed the remark was made in reference to Barber imitating Abuomar's driving style.
The witness estimated that Abuomar had his hand on the wheel for more than 10 seconds but less than a minute. Karycki said he attempted to help Barber steady the vehicle, but it exited the right side of the road, slid across both lanes and rolled onto its driver's side before coming to rest on its roof.
"The next thing I knew we were upside down," Karycki said.
Karycki, who suffered injuries to his head and knee and lacerations on his arms, legs and shoulders, said he was able to exit the car through a back window and spotted Abuomar and Bailey outside the car, but did not recall seeing Barber.
He recalled the passengers walking to a nearby house for assistance and later remembered asking Abuomar what he did. He said Abuomar replied, "I don't know. I'm sorry."
Karycki said he also recalled Abuomar, who also was injured in the accident, telling Barber's father in Town Park after the accident that he grabbed the steering wheel and was sorry for his actions.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Kymberley Best of Sunbury, Karycki said he and Barber had been dating on and off and were attempting to get back together when the accident occurred.
He denied fighting with Barber that evening and said none of the occupants of the car was drinking alcohol.
When asked by Best if anyone was smoking marijuana earlier in the evening, Karycki said yes. Karycki, who said Barber was not smoking marijuana, then invoked his Fifth Amendment rights by not incriminating himself after Apfelbaum explained to him that he didn't have to answer Best's question.
First assistant district attorney Ann Targonski objected several times to the relevance of Best's questions pertaining to Karycki's relationship with Barber and implications that alcohol or drugs were involved in the accident. But Apfelbaum overruled most of the objections and allowed Best to proceed with her right to explore the facts of the case.
Bailey corroborated most of Karycki's testimony.
'Do it like a man'
She told the court that Barber was acting like Abuomar when "jerking" the vehicle and that the defendant grabbed the wheel after telling the driver, "If you are going to do it, do it like a man."
She said the accident occurred about 20 seconds after Abuomar grabbed the wheel with his hand.
Bailey was partially ejected from the car and suffered a broken neck, lacerated spleen, broken ribs and several lacerations on her torso, hands and face.
She claimed Abuomar grabbed the wheel more than once before the accident.
The witness said she initially didn't tell state police right away about Abuomar grabbing the steering wheel because she didn't want anybody to get in trouble.
She also invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when Best questioned her about smoking marijuana. She did say Barber was not smoking marijuana.
Trooper Mark Adams of state police at Stonington, who filed the charges in the case, said he obtained information at the accident scene about where each of the occupants was seated and determined through the investigation that no alcohol or drugs affected the driver's ability to operate the vehicle.
Adams said he filed the charges earlier this month after obtaining additional information about the fatality.
'Unfortunate teenage accident'
Apfelbaum denied motions by co-defense counsel Timothy Bowers to dismiss the charges of aggravated assault by vehicle, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.
Bowers, who pointed out that three different people had their hands on the steering wheel before the crash, described the incident as an "unfortunate teenage accident."
Apfelbaum agreed, calling the fatality a "very sad situation."
Best and Bowers both expressed sympathy for Barber's family, but feel they have a strong defense.
"We can't ruin his (Abuomar) future by taking a plea because we don't feel he's to blame for the accident," Best said. "We intend to go to trial."
The defense attorney said her client, who is a full-time criminal justice major at Luzerne County Community College, has no prior criminal record.
Abuomar's father, Mustafa Abuomar, of Mount Carmel, who attended Wednesday's hearing in support of his son, declined comment after the proceeding, as did several family members of the accident victims.
Barber and Bailey graduated from Mount Carmel Area High School in June and Karycki and Abuomar graduated from the school in 2011.
Barber was employed as a hostess at Mattucci's Willow Cafe in Mount Carmel.