Judge allows argument for fatal ATV crash trial

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Prose­cutors will be allowed to tell a jury that an ATV driver, who faces homicide by vehicle and related charges, either knew or should have known about the potential for deer to jump into his path, a Blair County judge has ruled.

That’s a speculative and prejudicial argument, defense attorney Brian Manchester maintained in recent court hearing before Judge Timothy Sullivan.

But it’s “a fair argument” in light of the witness testimony at Trenton Ross Bilak’s preliminary hearing, Sullivan concluded in a ruling signed Monday.

Bilak, 23, of Everett, was driving the ATV on April 14 when he struck a pair of deer, throwing him and his passenger, 18-year-old Mikayla Focht of Hollidaysburg, from the vehicle. Focht died at the crash site on Knob Road in Greenfield Township.

State police at Hollidaysburg charged Bilak with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, accidents involving death or personal injury, unsworn falsification to authorities, tampering with physical evidence and numerous summary violations.

Witnesses at Bilak’s preliminary hearing in June said that Bilak had previously ridden an ATV in the area of the crash site and that deer were common there. Sullivan used that testimony as a deciding factor and advised that, if such information is not offered at trial, Manchester could make his request again before closing arguments start.

At a recent hearing before Sullivan, District Attorney Richard Consiglio took the position that the case offers more than sufficient evidence in support of the claim.

Sullivan’s recent ruling also turned down Manchester’s request for prosecutors to be barred from arguing that Bilak returned to the crash site to gather and destroy evidence or to cover up his involvement with the accident. The judge, in reaching that conclusion, again depended on preliminary hearing testimony by an investigating police officer who saw Bilak loading vehicle parts into a truck at the crash site.

Sullivan also declined to dismiss charges of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and unsworn falsification to authorities, both stemming from the police investigation. At the preliminary hearing, Manchester argued that his client cooperated with police by explaining that he went for help and telling them where he parked the SUV before returning to the crash site.

The findings on those two charges must rest with a jury, Sullivan said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.