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Man wins new trial in 2014 York Haven train-crash death of fiancee

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A man who prosecutors said was "high as a kite" on marijuana in 2014 when his fiancee was killed by a train after he drove onto railroad tracks in York Haven has won a new trial.

Akim Jones-Williams, 32, was sentenced in April 2017 to four to eight years in prison after a jury convicted him of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, homicide by vehicle, child endangerment, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, aggravated assault by vehicle, reckless endangerment, DUI and careless driving.

Killed in the July 5, 2014, crash was Cori E. Sisti, of Mechanicsburg.

It was her 23rd birthday that day, and they were on their way to meet family to celebrate. The couple's then-2½-year-old daughter was badly injured and flown by medical helicopter to Hershey Medical Center.

Jones-Williams, who lived in Mechanicsburg at the time but moved to New Jersey after the crash, also was badly hurt. Both he and his daughter recovered, according to trial testimony.

Akim Jones-Williams

The crash happened about 4:45 p.m. on Cly Road in an area known as Slonneker's Landing as the family was heading to the Susquehanna River, according to Newberry Township Police.

At trial, prosecutors told jurors that the train's warning horn, bells and lights all were activated, and that the conductor could see Sisti in the passenger seat, waving her arms at Jones-Williams to move. He did not, and he was driving extremely slowly.

During trial, jurors heard testimony that he confessed to a woman named Denise Gibson to being high that day.

"I drove up there ... (for) 18 miles, high as a kite, and nothing happened, so it's not my fault that the train hit our car," Jones-Williams told Gibson, according to court documents.

New trial: On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned Jones-Williams' conviction and ordered he receive a new trial, agreeing with his argument that the results of his blood-alcohol test should have been suppressed at trial.

Cori Sisti
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

That test was positive for marijuana, trial testimony revealed.

After the crash Jones-Williams was taken to York Hospital, where he was fading in and out of consciousness, so police could not ask him if he would consent to having his blood drawn and tested, according to the Superior Court ruling.

However, York Hospital had already drawn his blood, independent of any police request, the ruling states.

Police then requested the hospital transfer the sample to a private laboratory where it could be tested for the presence of alcohol and drugs, since the train's engineer and ambulance personnel had alerted police that they smelled marijuana on Jones-Williams after the crash, according to court documents.

More:Prison for man who caused train crash that killed his fiancee

The appeals court ruled police should have obtained a warrant, since the blood had already been drawn and there were no "exigent" circumstances, such as the possibility of intoxicants in the defendant's blood diminishing while the warrant was being secured.

Trial judge weighs in: Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner later acknowledged he should have suppressed the test results at trial, according to the appeals court ruling.

The Superior Court's ruling notes that courts' interpretation of Pennsylvania law regarding "implied consent" for such a blood draw changed several years ago.

Akim Jones-Williams

Two sections of state law that appellate courts previously determined gave police exemptions to obtaining a warrant "no longer serve as independent exceptions to the warrant requirement," the Superior Court's ruling in the Jones-Williams case states.

That means Jones-Williams' Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, the court determined.

Prosecutors will appeal to the state Supreme Court, according to Kyle King, spokesperson for the York County District Attorney's Office.

Defense attorney Shawn Dorward said he will try to win his client's release from prison as the appeals process continues.

Dorward confirmed that Jones-Williams could conceivably be released from prison before the appeals process has wrapped up.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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