New Details Emerge In Fatal Car/Motorcycle Crash

The scene of the crash on Red Village Road in Lyndon that took the life of East Burke motorcyclist Philip Barrett in August. (Photo By Todd Wellington)

The driver of a car that hit an oncoming motorcycle head-on in Lyndon last month told police the fatal crash occurred when he looked down at his speedometer.

That’s according to court documents obtained by the Caledonian-Record on Thursday even though no criminal charges have been filed yet against the driver of the car identified as David Rath, 41, of Kirby.

Rath was behind the wheel of a silver Subaru Forester that allegedly crossed the center line on Red Village Road and hit oncoming motorcyclist Philip Barrett of East Burke. Barrett, 43, was pronounced dead at the scene.

But Rath has already been cited by police to appear in Caledonia Superior Court on Monday to answer charges - if filed by prosecutors - of gross, negligent operation with death resulting and two counts of gross negligent operation with serious physical injury resulting.

According to an affidavit in support of a search warrant filed by Lyndonville Police Chief Jack Harris, the crash occurred at 11:05 a.m. on Aug. 26 on Red Village Road near the intersection of Black Walnut Lane.

Police say the crash occurred after Rath’s westbound car crossed the center line and collided with Barrett’s eastbound Harley Davidson motorcycle

“Rath said as he traveled west on Red Village Rd., he looked down at his speedometer,” wrote Chief Harris in the affidavit. “Rath said when he looked up he had crossed the center line into the eastbound lane and could not avoid the crash.”

Barrett was riding with two other motorcyclists when the crash occurred including Kari Harris (no relation to Chief Harris), 35, of Lyndonville, and Christopher Jenkins, 36, of St. Johnsbury. Both were injured in the crash.

“(Kari )Harris said that as they approached Black Walnut Ln. she saw the Subaru approaching from in front of them,” wrote Chief Harris in his report. “When the Subaru got to the sharp curve in the road the operator made no attempt to turn the vehicle. With the path of the vehicle, Harris originally thought that the Subaru was trying to cut in front of the motorcycles to enter Black Walnut Ln. When the Subaru did not make a turn for Black Walnut Ln., Harris said that she looked and could see the operator of the Subaru looking down, instead of forward. Harris said that the Subaru continued west in the eastbound lane and the next thing she knew Barrett and his motorcycle were gone.”

Jenkins, who suffered a broken shoulder in the crash, also told police he saw the Subaru “driving straight into the east bound lane,” according to the report.

“Jenkins believed the Subaru was turning onto Black Walnut Ln. and forgot to signal,” wrote Chief Harris. “When the Subaru continued west in the eastbound lane, Jenkins said he looked and could see the operator looking down. Jenkins said before he could react the Subaru hit Barrett head-on and the Subaru and Barrett’s motorcycle continued straight at him, hitting his motorcycle, bending his forks and sending Jenkins to the ground…”

Police said Rath showed no signs of intoxication or impairment at the crash scene.

Defense Inspection Request

While prosecutors have not filed charges in connection with the crash, Rath’s defense attorney, David Sleigh of St. Johnsbury, was in Caledonia Superior Court on Thursday asking Judge Michael J. Harris (no relation) to allow his own crash reconstruction expert access to the Subaru and Barrett’s motorcycle which have both been impounded by Lyndonville Police as evidence in the case.

According to court documents, prosecutors have already had a specialist conduct a “mechanical/diagnostic inspection” of the Subaru. Attorney Sleigh asked the court on Thursday to allow his defense expert to photograph the impounded vehicles today so he could have as much information as soon as possible as he prepared Rath’s defense.

“From my point of view, getting the pictures is time critical,” said Attorney Sleigh. “All of that evidence is subject to deterioration, unexpectedly and quickly over time…Rust forms, things get changed. Minutia in these cases sometimes is important in terms of figuring out velocities, vectors, all that kind of stuff and what I’m trying to do is preserve that evidence…”

But Caledonia County State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski argued that her office is not required to allow the defense access to evidence until charges are filed.

Zaleski said she would allow access to the vehicles next Tuesday - after the charges are filed as expected on Monday.

“There’s not a charge filed, there’s not a case here yet,” said Zaleski. “The state is not in any way denying access to the vehicles. In fact, the issue here is really merely of timing.”

Judge Harris denied Sleigh’s request saying he didn’t see a reason why the defense couldn’t wait until next week to inspect the motorcycle and the Subaru.

“It’s in a secure place, it’s under cover,” said Judge Harris. “We’re looking at a difference of four days.”

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