David A. Smith, the man accused of driving drunk and plowing his motorcycle into several pedestrians on an Amherst bike path Sunday, has at least two prior drunken-driving convictions in the local area, according to computer and arrest records.
Smith was charged with driving while intoxicated and criminally negligent homicide Sunday following the incident that killed two pedestrians and injured another on a balmy weekend afternoon at the edge of the bike path along Tonawanda Creek Road.
The 53-year-old Smith, of Roselle Avenue, Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty to felony DWI in October 2000 in North Tonawanda, court records show. Sentenced to five years’ probation and fined $2,500, he later was sent to jail for 30 days for violating his probation.
Computer records also show that Smith was convicted of DWI in a 1997 incident on Grand Island.
But because those previous convictions are both more than 10 years old, they apparently would not have any effect on the new DWI case against Smith, law enforcement officials suggested Tuesday.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III would not comment on Smith’s previous record, but he did explain the effect of previous DWI convictions.
“If a defendant’s prior [convictions] are more than 10 years old, it would be unlawful to charge [that person] with felony DWI,” Sedita said.
In New York, felony DWI can be charged only with a previous drunken-driving conviction in the last 10 years or with a defendant having a minor in the vehicle.
Smith, though, still faces a charge of criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony.
Following Smith’s arrest, Kelley A. Omel, who heads the district attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, obtained a court order for a blood draw from Smith. Sedita’s office has asked the Erie County toxicology lab for an expedited testing of that blood sample, to determine his blood-alcohol content. The alcohol content could be determined within a week.
Sedita would not explain what specific factors led Amherst police to charge Smith with driving while intoxicated.
“The investigating officers had reasonable suspicions to believe that he had consumed alcohol,” Sedita said.
While Sunday’s fatal incident was an extremely rare event – a motorcycle striking and killing two pedestrians – studies show that there are many more motorcyclists on the road than in years past and that many more of their fatal crashes now involve alcohol.
A study conducted last year by the University at Albany’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research on impaired driving among motorcyclists involved in crashes found more than 666,000 drivers with motorcycle licenses in the state in 2010 – up 22 percent from 2001.
Looking at fatalities from all crashes, the study found that the involvement of motorcycles in fatal crashes increased from 10.1 percent in 2001 to 16.1 percent in 2010.
Researchers also found that in 2006, 23 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involved alcohol. In 2010, that figure rose to 32 percent.
But it’s difficult to find any trend in a tragic incident that takes the lives of two people out for a walk on an unseasonably warm fall day.
State Police Sgt. David Martek, traffic sergeant for Troop A, the Western New York region, said it’s quite uncommon to have crashes in which a motorcycle hits a pedestrian. State police are not involved in the Amherst crash investigation.
“I think it’s pretty rare for a pedestrian to be hit in general,” Martek said. “ ... I can’t remember a pedestrian/motorcycle accident in my career.”