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Jury takes over in towing fatality


February 17. 2013 12:21AM


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WILKES-BARRE – Jurors will return to deliberations today to determine the fate of a tow-truck driver facing charges of homicide by motor vehicle while driving under the influence and two counts of DUI.


Robert Wickham testified Thursday he drank several 24-ounce cans of Keystone Light beer on March 7, 2011.


What he didn't do, he said, is kill 55-year-old Denise Polinchak while attempting to tow her vehicle.


"I did not hit Mrs. Polinchak," Wickham said in the last day of testimony at his trial. "Her car hit her."


A jury began deliberating Wickham's fate around 4:45 p.m., but was sent home by Judge Joseph Sklarosky 90 minutes later.


Sklarosky said the jury of six men and six women will continue their deliberations this morning.


Wickham was one of just two witnesses called to testify by his attorneys.


A tow truck driver for over 20 years, Wickham testified he drank about three 24-ounce cans of beer before 1 p.m. on March 7, while he was removing snow from several properties.


Later, Wickham said, he performed some towing jobs before being called to the Social Security Administration building in Plains Township to tow Polinchak's vehicle due to an unknown problem.


Wickham said he was directed to Polinchak's car by security guards and began to prepare the car for towing.


Wickham said he wanted to back the car away from a snow bank and told Polinchak to stay by his tow truck so she was not in harm's way.


While in the driver's seat, Wickham said he held the door open slightly so he could have a clear view. Polinchak was near the car and Wickham said he told her to move away.


When he could no longer see her, Wickham said, he started the car and put it in reverse.


That's when, he said, the motor "raced and revved" and "took off like a rocket backwards."


The car door flew open, hitting Wickham in the head and injuring his leg.


A snow bank stopped the car, and when Wickham got out he saw Polinchak lying on the ground.


"I was surprised, I didn't know the car didn't have brakes," Wickham said. "In a cooler … I had two (full) beers. (I thought) ‘I'm going to get blamed for this accident.' "


Wickham said he threw the beer over a snow bank and yelled to a security officer, who responded he saw the entire accident and help was coming.


When police arrived, medics attended to Wickham and he was taken by police to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for a blood-alcohol test – which revealed a level of .114 percent.


An adult in Pennsylvania is considered intoxicated with a BAC of .08 percent.


Wickham said he would not have moved the car if he knew it did not have brakes.


"I would have put it in neutral and coasted around," Wickham said.


Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake, Wickham admitted drinking isn't a good idea before going to do a tow job.


He also said some witnesses lied when they said he was aware of a brake problem with the car.


"It's not my fault. The car had no brakes. I had no control of the car," Wickham said.




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