By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO February 3, 2004 The prosecution says the driver of the car in a fatal accident that claimed the life of Tabitha Joslin of Liberty, the 24-year-old mother of a 4-year old daughter, should be convicted of 16 counts including vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and numerous violations of NYS vehicle and traffic laws.
The defense contends the alleged driver of the death car, 24-year old Kenneth Newman of Monticello, helped his friends into his car after a brawl broke out at Kilcoins Tavern in Swan Lake reportedly over a bucks worth of quarters and a game of pool and they sped off in fear of their lives after what was described as a violent mob attacked them.
The fatal car wreck occurred at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Tuesday, August 19, 2003, in the Town of Bethel.
The tragic accident sent Joslins betrothed, William Conklin, 23, to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with critical injuries including skull fractures, collapsed lungs and a fractured hand.
Newman was going to serve as best man at his friends wedding on Saturday, August 23.
According to state police and witnesses, Newman and his companions (the engaged couple and Newmans girlfriend Lisa Armetta, 22, of Kauneonga Lake) were out on the evening of Monday, August 18, 2003, partying until the wee hours of the following morning.
The local bar is well known for its free beer special on Mondays.
According to the NYS Liquor Authority, there is no record of violations against Kilcoins.
One of the women in the group reportedly started arguing with other bar patrons, and after the group left the bar at approximately 3:20 a.m., a fight erupted outside the bar and the screaming crowd began throwing bottles and rocks at Newmans 1997 Pontiac Sunfire as the group tried to leave.
Newman left the parking lot with his companions and David Evans, a bystander who jumped into the car to escape the mob, heading south on Route 55 at a speed state police later estimated to be 70-plus mph.
About a mile from the bar, Newman lost control of his vehicle on a sharp curve, and it slammed into a utility pole on the passengers side after sliding across the grass for more than 140 feet.
After re-constructing the accident scene, police estimated the speed of Newmans vehicle at the time/point of impact as approximately 55 MPH.
The utility pole was broken about 12 feet above the ground by the force of the impact.
Joslin was pronounced dead at the scene after sustaining massive trauma to the brain and multiple fractures. Her fiancé was partially ejected from the vehicle and sustained life-threatening injuries.
Armetta was treated at Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris for minor injuries. Evans suffered spinal fractures and a fractured arm after he was ejected from the vehicle. Newman was treated for neck pain.
On October 1, 2003, a Sullivan County grand jury indicted Newman on three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree (a Class D felony), six counts of vehicular assault in the second degree (a Class E felony) and several misdemeanors (assault in the third degree, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, operating a motor vehicle while ability impaired by drugs and reckless driving).
In addition, he was also indicted on the vehicle and traffic infraction of speeding (70 mph in a 55 mph zone).
On Thursday, January 29, Newmans jury trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault commenced in Sullivan County Court, Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda presiding.
Assistant District Attorney Michael McGuire said in his opening remarks, Young people die young for no reason . . . this is a case about taking responsibility for ones action.
The prosecution contends the fatal motor vehicle accident was foreseeable, predictable and avoidable, the result of a night of unchecked partying in which the driver of the car drank alcohol and beer, smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine during a five-hour pre-wedding binge at the local tavern before the tragic crash.
He ended the life of Tabitha Joslin, and with that forever changed the life of 4-year-old Gabrielle and seriously injured three of his friends, said McGuire.
The ADA said the real issue of the trial is drinking, smoking marijuana, cocaine, driving, speeding and killing.
Not so, said Newmans defense attorney, Henri Shawn of Monticello.
You smoke, you drive, youre wrong...thats the rule, he said. But every rule has exceptions. Our defense is very simple. He had no choice.
In painting a picture of the bar fight for the jury, Shawn said Conklin was jumped and Newman tried to stop the fight.
This was a riot. A mob started to surround that little group . . . [saying] Were going to f--k you up! arms were reaching in through the open door, Shawn told the jury. Can you imagine for a moment there was no reason to get into a car and get out of there?
It was the lesser of two evils.
He only had one choice, Get out while Im still alive, an impassioned Shawn continued during his opening statements.
The trial continues this week.