Charges advance in fatal crash case in Schuylkill County

·4 min read

May 29—TREMONT — Homicide by vehicle while DUI and other charges against a Mount Carmel man were held for court following a preliminary hearing Friday, but there were questions about steps taken by the arresting officer regarding blood testing of the defendant.

"We don't even know it is Ryan (Joseph) Little's blood," attorney Joseph Nahas, of Frackville, said about his client in asking that any charges related to DUI and alcohol use be dismissed.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Campion said that for the basis of a preliminary hearing, a copy of a hospital lab report and the investigation of how the crash occurred were enough to advance all of the charges, and Magisterial District Judge David J. Rossi agreed.

Little, 24, of 505 E. Fifth St., is charged with causing a crash on a Route 901 bridge over Interstate 81 in Foster Township on June 20 when his pickup truck crossed into the oncoming lane and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Crystal Lea Rausch, 50, of Pottsville. Rausch was pronounced dead at the scene by Schuylkill County Deputy Coroner Albert Barnes.

Little is charged with DUI-highest rate, DUI, driving on the wrong side of the road, careless driving, homicide by vehicle while DUI, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI and involuntary manslaughter.

Two passengers in the Rausch vehicle, Cathy Walacavage-Andrachick, 61, also of Pottsville, and a 10-year-old boy were trapped in the vehicle. Both were flown to trauma centers for treatment following their extraction, Nettles said.

Little was also injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Foster Township Police Chief James Nettles testified that he spoke with Little at the scene and detected an odor of alcohol. He said Little reported stopping for one beer after work and going home. Nettles said there were several beer cans in the bed of Little's truck and a sealed bottle of whiskey in the cab.

He said Little told him the cans in the bed of the truck were not from that day.

Nettles testified that although Little was taken to a Pottsville hospital for treatment, he did not request a legal blood draw for alcohol until two days later, the following Monday. The chief also said that he did not obtain a search warrant for the blood until Oct. 15.

Nahas asked Nettles why he took almost four months to apply for the warrant for the blood. Nahas also said the medical blood test performed on Little is not a legal blood test when looking for signs of alcohol or controlled substances.

"It's a medical blood draw; it's not a legal procedure," said Nahas, adding that no request was made by law enforcement.

Nahas asked Nettles if he performed a field sobriety test or breath test on Little at the scene.

The chief replied that he did not, saying his experience led him to believe that Little was under the influence and incapable of safe driving.

Nahas asked why a search warrant was not obtained the day of the crash or in the days that followed.

"I was busy doing what I had to do," Nettles said.

Under questioning by Campion, Nettles presented a report from the hospital's laboratory that indicated Little had a blood alcohol level of 0.189%.

Nahas asked Nettles about the chain of evidence for the blood, to which the chief referred to the report that indicated the name of the physician at the hospital and the name of the nurse who drew the blood. Nettles said he was never in contact with either of the two or anyone who worked in the laboratory where the blood was sent.

Nahas said the testing was done on blood serum and not whole blood, and the results can differ. He also told Rossi the lab report is not the original, saying that makes it hearsay.

Also testifying was Walacavage-Andrachick, who talked about how quickly the crash happened. She said Rausch was on the telephone with the mother of the 10 year old, but that her phone was in a holder in the center console and was on speaker.

Walacavage-Andrachick said she suffered a broken back and injuries to her knees and abdomen.

Referring to blood tests done on Rausch that came back positive for marijuana, Nahas asked Walacavage-Andrachick "how much marijuana did you and Crystal use?" before getting in the car and driving.

Rossi told Walacavage-Andrachick it was her right not to answer a question that may incriminate her, after which the woman invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and elected not to respond.

She did testify that she never saw Rausch use marijuana that day.