Thursday November 17, 2011

Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- Frank S. Zuber appeared stunned when the jury returned its verdict -- guilty of vehicular manslaughter while drunk -- against him. For the death of an 85-year-old World War II decorated Navy flier, Zuber was sentenced to between three and five years in state prison.

After a four-day trial, the jury spent about 90 minutes deliberating on Thursday. The six men and six women concluded that Zuber, 55, was culpable for the Dec. 7, 2010, crash on West Street that killed Joseph Donohue. Zuber was also found guilty of driving negligently.

Before issuing Zuber's punishment, Judge John A. Agostini said cases like this are the most difficult ones.

"It's sad for the families," Agostini said. "There are no winners here, only losers. It's a sad situation."

Donohue's daughter, Gayle Gardner, spoke to the court. She called her father her biggest cheerleader. While he had lived a full life, his family had looked forward to at least "one more Christmas, one more birthday" with him, Gardner said.

Berkshire Assistant District Attorney Gregory Barry requested that Zuber receive six to eight years in prison, a penalty that exceeds sentencing guidelines.

"There's no more awful thing in society than taking a person's life," said Barry, asking that the judge punish Zuber "severely."

At trial, Barry brought two eyewitnesses to the stand who said they saw Zuber's pickup truck, heading west, drift all the way to the other side of the eastbound lane just before it struck Donohue's sedan.


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One eyewitness testified that he saw "two or three" beer cans fall out of the cab when Zuber, who appeared to be drunk, got out of his truck just after the accident.

Two Pittsfield police officers, trained in accident reconstruction, concluded the accident had occurred in the eastbound lane and that Zuber was indeed drunk.

"Mr. Donohue did nothing wrong," said Barry during his final summation Thursday. "He was driving along in his own lane."

Zuber's defense attorney, Nathaniel K. Green, presented Wilson Dobson, an accident reconstruction expert, who concluded that Donohue had been at fault and was in the wrong lane at the time of the accident.

Barry called Dobson a "hired gun" who was paid for his services.

Green, during his final summation Thursday, threw doubt on the eyewitness accounts, saying they were unreliable due to inconsistencies in the witnesses' statements and the distance between the eyewitnesses and the accident.

Thursday, Green called Zuber a "very hard-working" man who owns his own home, has two children and has only one conviction on his record: a drunk driving conviction from 1979.

Green said his client was "very sorry for the death of Joseph Donohue."

Green asked that Zuber be sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail and that he receive alcohol treatment.

Agostini, following the state's sentencing guidelines, ordered Zuber to serve three to five years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction.

Zuber, who had been out on personal recognizance, was handcuffed and led away by court security officers.

Neither man was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx: aamelinckx@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6249. Follow him on Twitter: @BE_TheAmelinckx.