Driver will not be charged in death of Johnstown musician
JOHNSTOWN The driver of the vehicle that struck and killed musician Ed Lakata Tuesday morning will face no charges, according to Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey.
“It was an accident in the truest sense of the word,” he said.
John Damphier, 48, of Johnstown, was driving his Chevy pickup northbound along Route 29A at 9:26 a.m. when the accident happened, according to Lorey.
At the time, Lakata was also riding north on a high-end Trek bicycle from his Johnstown home to a camp on Caroga Lake. As the truck neared, Lakata was pedaling up a steep incline between West State Street and Willie Road, a place known locally as Mary-Jane Peck Hill.
“He was having a hard time,” Lorey said. “[Damphier] said the bike started to wobble and wobbled right into the side of the truck.”
Lakata was thrown from the bike and killed on impact. Deputies were on the scene shortly after, but there was nothing they could do.
Lorey said the solid white line between the shoulder and driving lane is used to determine fault in such circumstances. He said if Damphier had crossed that line before the crash, he would be facing charges. Similarly, if Lakata crossed into the driving lane, he would be to blame.
“We investigated the crash,” he said. “The accident happened very near the white line, but we couldn’t gather proof that anyone crossed over.”
In the absence of such proof, it was ruled an accident, especially since Damphier was not exceeding the 55 mph speed limit.
Lorey also pointed out that Lakata wasn’t wearing a helmet or any reflective safety clothing at the time. Such gear could have protected him from the impact or even the crash itself.
In the hours after the crash, sheriff’s investigators on the scene had difficulty identifying the body. Lakata wasn’t carrying a wallet.
“He did have a cellphone,” Lorey said. “Everybody has a cellphone these days.”
Investigators just called a few of the contacts in the phone.
“We didn’t say what had happened — just that we found a phone and needed to know who it belonged to,” Lorey said.
Lorey recommended people program three ICE, or “in case of emergency,” contacts into their phones. While just calling random contacts worked in this case, Lorey said, first-responders have an easier time contacting next of kin when they’re clearly labeled.
The Lakata family could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but the staff of A.G. Cole Funeral Home on East Main Street in Johnstown confirmed that calling hours will be held there from 5 to 8 p.m. today.