No new trial for Hanover hit-and-run driver who killed 4-year-old Dakota Wright
A York County judge on Tuesday denied a motion seeking a new trial for the hit-and-run driver who killed 4-year-old Dakota Wright in Hanover in 2016.
"I think at the end of the day, it comes up short," Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner said of defense attorney Eric Wayne White's argument that Tony Brent Shower Jr. deserves a new trial.
White argued that two key witnesses against Shower — an eyewitness who saw someone resembling Shower driving the hit-and-run van and Stephen Gambal III, with whom Shower had been doing drugs that night — shouldn't be believed.
White maintains there were inconsistencies in both men's testimonies and called Gambal a corrupt and polluted witness.
"We believe both those primary witnesses were given more weight than they should have by the jury," he told the judge.
But senior deputy prosecutor Stephanie Lombardo argued that jurors are the fact-finders at trial and are free to accept all, part or none of the testimony provided by each witness.
"Ultimately, your honor, the jury had an abundance of identifying evidence that supported (their conclusion that) Mr. Shower was the driver," she said.
Bortner, in denying the defense's request for a new trial, agreed the case was largely circumstantial but said circumstantial evidence is perfectly sufficient to convict someone.
The background: Shower, 35, of Hanover, was sentenced Jan. 3 to a total of six to 15 years in state prison. Jurors found him guilty Nov. 22 of accidents involving death or personal injury/hit and run, as well as driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
Dakota, who lived in the 200 block of Princess Street in Hanover, had arrived home with her adult sister at 7:09 p.m. Nov. 22, 2016, when she was fatally struck by a hit-and-run van in the road, trial testimony revealed.
The van, which was going about 22 mph, never slowed before hitting her and didn't slow afterward, according to first assistant district attorney Tim Barker.
Prosecutors' trial evidence included the fact that DNA from blond hairs embedded in the headlight assembly of a white utility van matched the maternal DNA lineage of Dakota's family and that the zipper pull on her My Little Pony jacket scratched the van's bumper.
Barker also maintains that evidence shows Dakota's jacket left a clothing transfer on one of the van's tie rods.
Smoked crack all day: The van was owned by Gambal, Shower's friend, who testified he and Shower had been driving around all day prior to the hit-and-run, smoking crack cocaine. Shower also did heroin, Gambal told jurors.
Gambal testified that about 7 p.m., he waited in the parking lot of a local bar while Shower drove Gambal's van to go buy more drugs. When Shower returned about 20 minutes later, he told Gambal to take over driving again, according to Gambal.
Officers from two different police departments separately pulled over the van, since 911 had broadcast a description of it. The first officers ended up letting the van go because Gambal appeared sober and, in the dark, officers were unable to see any damage related to the hit-and-run, according to testimony.
The second time the van was pulled over, Gambal was alone in the van. By that time, he had dropped off Shower and had smoked more crack cocaine, he testified.
West Manheim Township Police arrested Gambal on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and impounded the van. When it was examined in a lighted garage, the blond hairs and damage were found, testimony revealed.
Blames buddy: Shower didn't take the stand at trial, but he gave three separate interviews to police in which he eventually admitted that he and Gambal had been smoking crack all day.
After initially denying any knowledge of the hit-and-run, Shower claimed he was sleeping in the passenger seat of the van when he felt or heard a thud, and that Gambal said, "I think I just hit a kid," according to police testimony. Shower told investigators he fell back asleep after hearing that.
A neighbor of Dakota's heard the thud and watched the van drive past, according to testimony.
He told police he was sure the driver was the only person in the van and gave a description of the driver that sounded nothing like Gambal but was a good description of Shower.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.