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Charges dismissed for 1 in fiery fatal I-83 crash
Charges have been dropped for one of two men accused of causing a fiery mattress-related crash on Interstate 83 that killed a Dillsburg-area man in 2013.
York County Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner issued an order April 5 dismissing charges including vehicular homicide that had been lodged against Milton Martinez. In the same order, he ruled the case can stand against co-defendant Michael Grandmaison.
The York County District Attorney's Office has appealed to the state Superior Court, asking that it overturn Bortner's ruling on the Martinez charges, according to office spokesman Kyle King.
In 2015, nearly two years after the crash, Grandmaison and Martinez were charged with vehicular homicide, aggravated assault by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and two counts of reckless endangerment.
Also last year, their defense attorneys filed motions arguing the prosecution had failed to provide the court with enough evidence to prove the cases should go to trial. Bortner's April 5 order was in response to those motions.
The crash: Brian "Tim" Jacobs, 46, of Franklin Township, was driving a service truck northbound on I-83, just north of the North George Street exit (Exit 22), when he had to stop for traffic. That's because one of three mattresses tied to Martinez's truck fell off and landed on the highway, state police have said.
Grandmaison was driving a tractor-trailer behind Jacobs and failed to stop — slamming into the back of Jacobs' truck and pushing it on top of the service truck in front of it, driven by Gordon Myers of Lewisberry, police said.
Myers suffered injuries but survived, according to police, who said both those service trucks were owned by S&W Petroleum Services of Dillsburg.
Jacobs likely died of his injuries before fire consumed his work truck, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
The crash caused a massive fireball that engulfed Jacobs' truck and backed up traffic for many miles over the course of about eight hours, officials have said.
Grandmaison, 54, of Clinton, Maine, told police he was trying to place a cup of soda back into his center console when he looked up, at which point he said it was too late for him to stop, police have said.
Martinez, 51, of Harrisburg, had used clothesline-type rope or string to tie three mattresses to the bed of his pickup truck, which prosecutors and police alleged he should have known was reckless.
Judge rules: Bortner's order notes he had to decide whether the defendants' actions were so reckless as to warrant criminal charges.
He noted that preliminary hearing testimony from other drivers who stopped for the mattress indicated Grandmaison had enough time to see what was happening. A state police crash reconstructionist testified to the same thing, the order states.
"Grandmaison had over 2,000 feet to perceive and react to the circumstances, yet his braking was so late as to not occur until just prior to impact," the judge wrote. "Indeed, (one witness') testimony was that for much of the period in which she perceived danger, Mr. Grandmaison was accelerating. Here, the only explanation for Grandmaison's failure ... to avoid an accident is distraction rising to the level of recklessness."
Not reckless: Turning to Martinez's case, Bortner wrote that he doesn't doubt Martinez caused the chain-reaction crash.
But the judge noted that after the crash, state police allowed Martinez to simply re-tie the mattresses on his truck and drive away.
"We are left perplexed as to how an investigator, no matter how distracted (by a crash investigation), would sanction the use of the very same string unless it was not so readily apparent that it would be reckless to do so," Bortner wrote. "We are unaware of any reason why a person would not be allowed to transport mattresses on the roadway in question."
Martinez used string that "ultimately proved unsuitable for the task," but the prosecution failed to show that "your average driver" should have known it was reckless to use such string, according to the judge's order.
"The trouble for the commonwealth is that they have not demonstrated that Mr. Martinez's actions were reckless," Bortner concluded.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.