LOCKPORT – Skyler T. Zephier of Yankton, S.D., who allegedly left the scene after a two-vehicle crash that killed his passenger and seriously injured the other driver, pleaded not guilty to a 19-count indictment Thursday in Niagara County Court.
The most serious charges against Zephier, 21, are two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carry 25-year maximum prison terms.
He was arrested after a crash that occurred at about 11 a.m. Sept. 8 at Susie’s Lane and Upper Mountain Road on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in Lewiston.
Brett McKee, 18, of the reservation, a passenger in the sport utility vehicle that police said Zephier was driving, was killed when the vehicle rolled over and he was pinned in the wreckage, Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell said.
The driver of the other vehicle, Jason D. Cramer, 38, suffered a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, a bruised lung and two broken bones near the base of his spine, Caldwell said.
She accused Zephier, who police said was driving south on Susie’s Lane, of accelerating into the intersection before the crash. The Cramer car was dragged about 17 feet after impact before the vehicles separated and the Zephier vehicle overturned.
Caldwell charged that Zephier “left with his friend hanging upside down.”
She said a blood test “several hours later” showed a blood alcohol content reading of 0.09 percent, just above the 0.08 percent legal threshold for intoxication. The test also showed recent marijuana use, Caldwell said.
She succeeded in persuading County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas to raise Zephier’s bail from $50,000 to $100,000. She said the charges handed up by the grand jury are more serious than those police originally lodged against Zephier and also pointed to a “criminal history.”
Defense attorney Charles F. Pitarresi objected, saying, “I don’t think the court needs to increase bail just on [the basis of] that. It’s the same accident it was before.”
He said Zephier’s record in South Dakota was an arrest for simple assault, which was reduced to disorderly conduct. He then failed to pay a fine that was imposed in that case, Pitarresi said.
The defense attorney said Zephier and his father were visiting friends on the Tuscarora Reservation and described McKee as an acquaintance.