Driver in fatal crash with bicyclist charged in unrelated incident
JOHNSTOWN The Johnstown man who struck and killed a bicyclist in June is facing charges after driving into a mailbox while impaired by drugs, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said.
John Damphier, 48, was driving east on County Highway 107 on July 30 when he swerved off the road, Lorey said.
The owner of the ruined mailbox called 911 to report an erratic driver in the area. Deputies picked up Damphier just a few miles down the road, observing him swerving out of his lane.
“He was obviously intoxicated,” the sheriff said, “but not on alcohol.”
Lorey said Damphier failed several field sobriety tests, and deputies found what appeared to be prescription pain pills in his vehicle.
Investigators are still waiting on blood tests to determine the amount and type of drugs in Damphier’s system, but Lorey offered the results of his preliminary investigation.
“We believe he was using pain medication prescribed to him by a doctor,” he said. “A lot of people use such medication for chronic pain, but Damphier used too much.”
Perth Town Court officials said Damphier is scheduled to appear Aug. 19 to face charges of driving while ability impaired by drugs and failure to keep right, as well as a lane violation. Lorey said Damphier is also charged with possession of a controlled substance outside its original container and leaving the scene of a property-damage accident.
The charges come just more than a month after Damphier struck and killed Johnstown musician Ed Lakata. The morning of June 25, Damphier and Lakata were climbing a northbound hill on Route 29A — Lakata on a bicycle, Damphier in his pickup truck. They collided, and Lakata was killed.
At the time, Lorey called the collision “an accident in the truest sense of the word,” and Damphier was never charged. He said fault in such circumstances is determined by which party crossed the white fog line, and that detail could not be proved.
That explanation ignited a series of complaints from local cyclists and lawyers. Finger Lakes attorney and New York Bicycling Coalition board member Jim Reed spoke out in blog posts and letters to newspapers, saying Lorey’s fog line explanation had very little to do with the actual law.
“The law requires vehicles give cyclists a wide swath when passing,” he said. “The sheriff should know this.”
He said Damphier’s recent charges cast even more doubt on Lorey’s handling of the initial investigation.
“The question now,” he said, “is whether Damphier was on the same medication at the time of Lakata’s death.”
Lorey stood by his investigation Tuesday, saying the two incidents are separate and different.
“Damphier was obviously sober at the time of [the June 25] crash,” he said, “and obviously not sober in this most recent case.”
Lorey could not comment on any previous driving infractions Damphier may have incurred, saying it was up to the court to gather such information.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira was unavailable.
Members of the Lakata family could not be reached Tuesday.