A 19-year-old college student was found not guilty Wednesday of noncriminal motor vehicle charges in the deaths of a motorcyclist and two people who tried to come to his aid.
Anneliese Weyand of Gowanda was acquitted of the charge of failing to exercise due care after a two-day nonjury trial before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio.
Weyand was charged after the July 30 triple fatality on Route 438 near Richardson Road in the Pinewood section of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.
James Golden, who sparked the incident, is serving a state prison term. Weyand still faces wrongful-death suits to be filed by the families of the three victims, Martin Mohawk, Arthur Schindler and Amy Jimerson, attorney Michael P. Caffery said after the verdict.
Weyand, who did not testify or present any witnesses, declined to comment after the verdict.
She had been driving to her parents' summer home after work at a Gowanda supermarket minutes after Mohawk, 21, crashed his motorcycle into the rear of the van that Golden was backing out of Schindler's driveway. Police said that at the time of the accident, both Mohawk and Golden had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit.
Schindler and Jimerson had run into the roadway to assist Mohawk, and Weyand's vehicle drove over the three of them. Weyand remained at the scene, but Golden sped off and was arrested at his mother's house three hours after the incident.
During the trial, defense attorney Kevin W. Spitler cited findings of the Erie County Sheriff's Accident Reconstruction Unit that Weyand had been driving below the 55-mph speed limit on the roadway, was not impaired by alcohol or drugs and was not using her cell phone illegally at the time of the incident. Prosecutor Jeffrey J. Hagen argued that while Weyand had not been accused of criminal negligence or drunken driving, a grand jury determined that she "was not a reasonably prudent driver" on the night of the crash.
The judge told relatives of the three victims in the courtroom that "my heart goes out to you," but she found Weyand not guilty, noting that under vehicle and traffic law, she had exercised the "due care" required.
After the verdict, Spitler said his client and her family "express their terrible sorrow for the accident."