Private criminal complaint rejected
Parents of victim in 2019 accident sought further charges
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has rejected attempts by parents of an Altoona man killed in a motorcycle accident nearly three years ago to pursue a private criminal complaint against another driver who they contend caused the death of their son.
Timothy and Tammy Peterman, parents of Zachary Peterman, 27, who died on June 1, 2019, filed a private criminal complaint asking that the other motorcyclist, Brad Allen Confer, 65, Tyrone, be charged with homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, speeding, reckless driving and passing another vehicle on the right.
The parents of Zachary wanted those charges filed in addition to charges of speeding and careless driving already filed against Confer by Pennsylvania State Police.
State court records show that the charges filed by the state police have yet to be heard by Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller of Tyrone.
The filing of a private criminal complaint is rare in Pennsylvania, but it is permitted by law. A private complaint must be presented to and approved by the county district attorney.
In the Peterman case, now-retired District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio rejected the proposed private prosecution by the Petermans, contending the charges of homicide by vehicle and recklessly endangering “have no prosecutorial merit.”
Consiglio stated that a policy of his office was not to approve private criminal complaints if charges already filed by state police were “appropriate.”
On appeal, Blair County President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle found on Jan. 21, 2021, that Consiglio did not abuse his discretion in rejecting the more serious charges of homicide by vehicle and recklessly endangering, but she concluded he did abuse his discretion by rejecting the charge of reckless driving.
The parents, through Pittsburgh attorney Jeremy B. Cooper, appealed Doyle’s decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Judges Dan Pellegrini, Mary Jane Bowes and John T. Bender on Wednesday handed down a 16-page opinion in support of Consiglio’s decision.
The Petermans had a “very heavy burden of demonstrating that the DA’s decision was patently discriminatory, arbitrary or pretextual, and therefore not in the public interest,” the opinion stated.
Peterman’s parents did not show any indication of bias or unfairness on the part of the DA or state police in bringing only two charges against Confer, the Superior Court panel determined.
“Instead, the record reflects that the PSP conducted a thorough investigation of the crash and filed charges based on Trooper (Justiin) Roland’s informed assessment that this was a tragic traffic accident,” the Superior Court ruled.
It concluded Consiglio made his decision “after careful review of the crash scene, witness statements and accident reconstruction data.”
The accident occurred about 1:30 p.m. just outside of Tyrone on South Eagle Valley Road.
Peterman and a friend were riding their motorcycles and pulled up to a traffic signal at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street in Tyrone.
Confer, riding his Harley-Davidson, was ahead of them, and Confer heard “revving engines and yelling behind him.”
Peterman and Confer had a “mutual dislike” for each other because Peterman had been engaged to Confer’s daughter, a relationship that ended just days before the accident.
When it was time to proceed from Pennsylvania Avenue onto South Eagle Valley Road, state police were told by Peterman’s friend that Confer “flipped them off.”
State police determined that as the motorcycles proceeded north, Peterman passed Confer on the left then braked and swerved in front of Confer.
Confer then sped past Peterman by moving into the right fog lane.
Both then accelerated and passed a vehicle.
Police interviewed a mail carrier who had pulled her vehicle off to the side of the road.
She saw Peterman’s cycle begin to slide on the road. His helmet flew off as he slid under the guardrail.
Police interviewed a couple who also saw Peterman’s motorcycle sliding along the road.
The accident occurred just before the road proceeded into a downhill, “blind right curve,” it was noted in the Superior Court decision.
The accident reconstruction report indicated that Peterman’s cycle was traveling 76 mph when he lost control.
An inspection of Confer’s cycle showed no evidence of contact between the two vehicles.
According to the Superior Court opinion, the investigating officer allegedly told Consiglio he “did not believe there is enough evidence to distinguish between any particular rider for criminal charges,” which is why he recommended only speeding and careless driving charges be filed against Confer.
The Superior Court pointed out the Petermans alleged that “Confer’s conduct during the incident resulted in the motorcycle crash and the death of their son.”
But the appeals court concluded, “Thus we agree with the trial court that the DA acted within his discretion in disapproving the Petermans’ complaint.”