New arrest in fatal Palmer crash

Crime, Law and JusticeDrunk DrivingJuvenile DelinquencyJustice SystemJails and PrisonsTrials and ArbitrationCrime

Jason Dietterick, 18, wanted to have a party while his parents were away, so he called a woman in her 60s who had gotten beer for him several times before.

Dietterick had done yard work for Diane C. Curran, a neighbor in the Old Orchard section of Palmer Township. He told her about his parents going out of town and said he wanted to buy some beer.

The Easton Area High School senior picked up Curran at her house at 135 Applewood Drive and drove to Boom a Rang Beverage at 2603 Dearborn St., off 25th Street in Palmer.

Using her ATM card, Curran bought eight cases of Natural Ice beer for $80 while Dietterick waited in his car. She kept one case for herself, and Dietterick paid her for seven.

That's the scenario Palmer police laid out Tuesday in court papers charging Curran with reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol to minors. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 11. If convicted, she could face up to three years in prison and more than $7,000 in fines.

Curran became the second person arrested in an ongoing investigation into the March 5 crash in Palmer that killed Easton Area High School students Michael R. Cummings, 18, and Amanda Lynn Schultz, 16.

Kyle M. Kehler, 18, who drove the car that slammed into a tree at 6:26 a.m. near Wedgewood and Southwood drives, faces vehicular homicide and related charges. He is in the Northampton County Prison under $100,000 bail.

Police said another arrest could come this week.

''The investigation is not over yet,'' Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said in a news conference at the Easton courthouse. ''We have not ruled out that there may have been other alcohol involved in this matter. My office wants to ensure that every piece of evidence is uncovered.''

He said alcohol might have been present at two or three party locations, but that he is not alleging other adults were involved.

Other than at Dietterick'shouse, police have said there were parties or gatherings at the homes of Ilyse Filowitz of 140 Applewood Drive and Sean Smith of 8 Rosemont Court.

Morganelli said a lesson remains unlearned. ''It's just unfortunate that I have to sit here over and over again to send this message: You cannot give alcohol to minors and expect that nothing's going to happen,'' he said.

Curran, who turned 62 the day of the accident, was released on $50,000 unsecured bail by District Judge Ralph Litzenberger and told to stay away from Dietterick.

Prosecutors said Curran's and Dietterick's accounts differ on a key point — Curran said she bought the beer March 2, and Dietterick said she bought it March 4 — but the ATM record should determine who is right.

Kehler, who dropped out of Easton Area High School last year and lives in Palmer, has told police he had three beers at Dietterick's house in the hours before the crash.

Police said Kehler, who was injured and hospitalized for three days, had a blood-alcohol ratio of 0.12 percent, six times the level at which an underage driver is considered too drunk to drive in Pennsylvania, and he also tested positive for an opiate.

Curran told Litzenberger she retired in 1987 from the insurance industry and has lived alone since her husband's death in 1987.

She told police she bought the beer Thursday, March 2, when there was no school because of a snow day. Dietterick told police they got the beer Saturday, March 4, for a party that night at his house while his parents, Gary Dietterick and his wife, Sally, were away.

In another aspect of the case, Morganelli has asked a county judge to force Kehler's friend Elayna Bartolacci, 17, to talk to investigators, who have obtained a letter she wrote to Cummings' mother.

In the letter, Bartolacci said Kehler showed up drunk at her house at 760 Newlins Road, Forks Township, about 4:30 a.m. and left at 5:30 a.m., about an hour before the fatal accident. She said Kehler had to leave the house because she didn't want him around when her parents got up.

Morganelli has said investigators are particularly interested in a sentence in the letter that says, ''If you want I can tell you more about that night in person.''

A lawyer for the Bartolaccis, Leonard Zito, has said they are willing to cooperate in the investigation, but only if their daughter's statements are not made public. Morganelli has refused, saying that's not possible because the information she would provide might be needed in prosecuting Kehler and others.

Morganelli noted this isn't the first time he's charged someone with buying alcohol for teenagers involved in a fatal crash.

Last year, Morganelli prosecuted Ernest A. Smodish of Lower Saucon Township, who provided beer to Dustin Henniger, a teenager whose drunken driving accident in May killed his brother. Henniger, then 17, pleaded guilty in juvenile court and was sentenced to a year in a juvenile facility. Smodish was sentenced to 51 months in prison.

Morganelli said he could not charge Curran with manslaughter, as he had done in the case of Judith McCloskey of Plainfield Township, who hosted a drinking party in her home in 2002.

Three teenagers — Christopher Mowad and Bryan Kiefer, both of Washington Township; and Kimberly Byrne of Upper Mount Bethel Township — died in an accident after leaving McCloskey's home. The case drew national media attention and was believed to be the first prosecution of its kind in the country.

A jury found McCloskey was negligent and convicted her. She spent a year in state prison.

''The McCloskey case was not an easy case,'' Morganelli said. It would be even harder, he said, to show that Curran knew Kehler would drink and drive. Curran was a ''facilitator,'' he said.

He said adults need to realize they can't allow teenagers to drink, even if they take precautions such as taking their car keys. ''The problem is, you're playing with fire,'' he said.

joe.mcdonald@mcall.com

610-559-2152

''The investigation is not over yet.''

JOHN MORGANELLI

Northampton County

district attorney

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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