MAYVILLE – Five witnesses for the prosecution took the stand Wednesday in the non-jury trial for Nicholas Mineweaser, who was indicted in July 2020 on charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while ability impaired by drugs for his role in the fatal collision of 7 year old Emmaline Wilcox.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt and Assistant District Attorney Emily Woodard are prosecuting the case before Judge Paul Wojtaszek. Mineweaser is being represented by Buffalo area attorney Michael Dwan.
On Wednesday, Schmidt brought in witnesses to describe the scene of the crash, and attempted to show that Mineweaser was under the influence of marijuana.
Before any witnesses were brought in, Dwan objected that he wasn’t sure if notices of claims had been filed against the state for the crash. Schmidt noted that he didn’t feel it was relevant, saying that criminal cases differ from litigation. “Litigation finds as many as possible with deep pockets,” Schmidt said.
Nonetheless, Dwan said he wanted to know any pending litigation, alleging that Route 60 is known as a “dangerous road.” He later said that 82 people have died on Route 60 in the last 50 years. In the end, the judge agreed that Schmidt should let the defense know to the best of his ability if there are pending claims regarding the fatal Feb. 24, 2020 crash.
The first person on the witness stand was Deloris DuBois of Cassadaga. She shared how she witnessed the accident. DuBois was traveling south while Emmaline’s mother Shanna Wilcox was traveling north.
Wilcox missed her turn and attempted to turn into the closed Privitera’s fruit stand, when her vehicle was rear-ended by Mineweaser, causing her vehicle to be pushed into the opposite lane, when it was struck by a tractor trailer.
DuBois said the weather was clear for a February day and didn’t feel there was a lot of traffic, relatively speaking. After witnessing the crash, DuBois exited her vehicle to see if Wilcox was OK. It was shortly after that that she realized that a young child had been seriously hurt. “I was just kind of holding her (the driver),” DuBois said, grabbing tissues, wiping her eyes.
The defense team asked if Wilcox had been wearing glasses, but DuBois couldn’t remember.
DuBois, who is retired from the state Department of Transportation, was also questioned if she felt Route 60 is safe, if people regularly speed on the road, and asked if she regularly uses her rear view mirror, especially when making left hand turns.
Two members of the Fredonia Fire Department testified next. First was Thomas Michael Gustafson. The crash was his first call as an Emergency Medical Technician for the department. While others were caring for Emmaline, Gustafson treated Mineweaser. He said the defendant only had minor cuts on his hands and declined to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
After Gustafson, Joshua Horch was sworn in. He supervised Gustafson’s interaction with Mineweaser. Horch was asked if he knows people who use marijuana, which he said he does. He said during testimony that Mineweaser “seemed off” during the evaluation. At one point he said the defendant acted like “someone who is high on marijuana” but after multiple objections by the defense, the judge said that observation would be stricken from the record.
Patrick Jones, who is a truck driver for Ellman’s Garage in Dunkirk, was brought up on the stand next. While the accident occurred around 4 p.m., he said he was brought to the scene three or four hours later. In order to tow the vehicle, he had to get inside and place it in neutral.
While inside, Jones said he could smell marijuana. Jones said he doesn’t use marijuana personally but knows people who do and can easily identify the odor. He added that the smell of marijuana gives him a headache and said that he got a headache after getting inside Mineweaser’s vehicle.
The last individual who took the stand Wednesday was State Trooper Brendan Murphy. Murphy said because others were treating Emmaline, he interviewed Shanna Wilcox and Mineweaser.
Murphy said Wilcox was “acting hysterical,” which he said he completely understood, due to the circumstance. He did not notice any odors of marijuana or alcohol while speaking to her.
When he talked to Mineweaser, Murphy said he appeared to be “slow and sluggish” and wasn’t acting like someone who was involved in a serious automobile accident.
Murphy had another officer, who was a drug recognition expert, interview Mineweaser. Although he didn’t stay with Mineweaser during that entire interview, he did say that Mineweaser was swaying when asked to stand on one leg.
Murphy said he could smell marijuana in Mineweaser’s vehicle and saw a half smoked marijuana blunt inside.
Murphy placed Mineweaser in custody and transported him multiple times – first to the state trooper barracks on Route 60, then to the Fredonia village police station, and later to Brooks Memorial Hospital for a blood test.
Murphy said he searched Mineweaser before placing him in the patrol car. During the search, he removed an empty plastic baggie and a cell phone. The baggie was the center of discussion among the attorneys when brought up for evidence. Although Murphy said the baggie was the same one from that February day, because he couldn’t remember all the details of when and how it was stored into evidence, the judge wouldn’t permit it to be used at this time. The judge did tell Schmidt that he is welcome to try again using additional witnesses and details.
Murphy described how Mineweaser was read his Miranda Rights and how the blood was withdrawn and stored. During his testimony, Dwan continued to object.
The second day of court wrapped up before Schmidt finished his line of questioning. The trial is scheduled to resume again today at 10 a.m. in Mayville at which time it is expected Murphy will continue to be questioned by Schmidt, and then cross-examined by the defense.