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Lackawanna woman convicted of assault for using car to drag, injure acquaintance

Betty Joyce Barnes was hit by a slow-moving car and dragged 118 feet. One tire left a skid mark 94 feet long because it was “obstructed” by her body.

The driver was a woman she had known for most of her life.

Barnes survived with a brace on her leg and a permanently damaged hip.

On Thursday, the driver, Sandra McNeil, 55, of Lackawanna, was found guilty of second-degree assault.

In issuing her decision in the nonjury trial, State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang noted that she found the prosecution’s witnesses, including Barnes, to be credible and that she was not swayed by the testimony of the defendant or other defense witnesses.

The unusual crime occurred last Aug. 13 in the First Ward of Lackawanna, where both women have lived all their lives. Barnes had done some cleaning work for McNeil, who is disabled by arthritis and other health problems, and McNeil suspected that Barnes had helped herself to $7 from a jar when she was in her house.

Both sides agreed that immediately before the incident, McNeil saw Barnes riding a bicycle up the street and decided to follow her in her car to ask about the money.

Defense witnesses testified that McNeil just wanted to talk to Barnes; but a prosecution witness said he overheard McNeil say she was going to hit Barnes before she got into her car.

During the trial, Vincent E. Collins Sr., who knows both women and considers them friends – although he said McNeil no longer talks to him – testified for the prosecution that he saw McNeil driving slowly behind Barnes before she bumped the back of the bicycle. The women both stopped and appeared to be arguing, he said, before Barnes tried to ride off.

McNeil followed, Collins testified, before she slowed down and turned the car at Barnes.

“She dragged her down the street with the car,” Collins testified, adding that he was yelling at her that there was someone under the car. “I had to say it a few times before she stopped.”

Barnes, 57, described from the witness stand how she tried to hold herself up with her hands and elbows while her legs were dragging behind.

“I was wondering when is this car going to stop,” she said.

It did finally stop and, after neighbors lifted the back of the car to free her, she said, “Sandra got out, and said, ‘Betty, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you were under there.’ ”

The next thing Barnes said she remembered was waking up in the hospital three days later.

McNeil has contended both in and out of court that the event was a horrible accident.

Assistant District Attorney John P. Gerken Jr. prosecuted the case; McNeil was represented by Andrew C. LoTempio.

Wolfgang founded McNeil guilty of second-degree assault with intent to cause physical harm rather than first-degree assault. She could face up to seven years in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 17.