A UPMC doctor accused of driving over the speed limit while under the influence and causing a fatal crash appeared in court for the first time Friday.
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Joseph Yanta is charged with causing the crash that killed his coworker in July 2022. Another UPMC doctor, Doug Rockacy, was killed in the crash on Wexford Bayne Road in Pine Township.
A judge in Pittsburgh Municipal Court made it known that his kids know both the Yanta family as well as the Rockacy family and ultimately recused himself from overseeing Doctor Joseph Yanta’s preliminary hearing.
Yanta walked into court with his wife and attorney in silence. They blended in with Dr. Rockacy’s family, including his wife and two kids. Attorney Jonathan Stewart was by their side.
“Douglas Rockacy was a beloved father, husband, family man,” said Attorney Jonathan Stewart. “He was also cherished in the medical community too. He was a distinguished member of that community. This has been particularly hard not just on the family but on those he worked with as well and this is just an unspeakable tragedy.”
According to the criminal complaint, Yanta was driving nearly 130 miles per hour when he lost control. His Tesla went airborne and crashed into a creek. Detectives say Rockacy was ejected from the passenger seat.
“Ultimately, Dr. Yanta decided to drive while under the influence,” said Stewart. “Of course, they would say allegedly, but we believe that to be the case. And not only that, but to drive at an excessive rate of speed. As you can imagine the family is really upset because this is not just negligence, but really criminal conduct at this point.”
People who were with Rockacy and Yanta that day said they were at a golf outing all day. Police said they went to Cenci’s Pizza in Wexford afterward, and surveillance video shows they continued to drink there. The criminal complaint states Yanta’s blood alcohol content was a .172, an hour and a half after the crash.
“The family wants to see Dr. Yanta held accountable for his actions,” said Stewart.
“No comment,” said Defense Attorney Michael Sherman.
Yanta’s attorney, Michael Sherman, asked the judge to recuse himself. Stewart believes the judge did the right thing.
“The District Attorney’s Office had to recuse themselves for similar conflicts, and that’s why the Attorney General’s office has stepped in to perform the prosecution,” said Stewart. “I believe what’s happening here is the wheels of justice are working the way they’re supposed to, and I do believe we’re going to get ultimately the outcome that we’re looking for.”
The new date for Yanta’s preliminary hearing is Feb. 24.
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