Tuesday November 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- After deliberating for about an hour after a two-day trial, a District Court jury found Kristine Hazzard not guilty of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation on Tuesday.

A tearful Hazzard hugged her attorney, Leonard H. Cohen, after the verdict was read in a Jury of Six session of Central Berkshire District Court.

Hazzard, the 51-year-old president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, struck 70-year-old Ralph Calamari of Pittsfield while he was walking in a crosswalk on East Housatonic Street at Wendell Avenue about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2010.

Calamari died three weeks later at Albany Medical Center in New York due to an infection he contracted while hospitalized. Hazzard was charged with misdemeanor negligent homicide in January 2011, more than two months after the man's death.

On Tuesday, Hazzard, a Hinsdale resident, took the stand and tearfully told the jury her story.

She said just before the accident as she was turning onto East Housatonic from South Street in her 2008 Lincoln MKX, she stopped for a woman who was crossing the street and while waiting used her Bluetooth to try and call her son, but he didn't pick up.

About 30 seconds after she made the turn onto East Housatonic, she saw Calamari in front of her car, slammed on her brakes and swerved to miss him, but it was too late.

"I heard a ‘thump,'" said Hazzard. She pulled over, ran to where Calamari was on the ground and called 911.

According to Hazzard, it was dark and "shadowy" at the intersection where the accident occurred.

She said at the time of the accident she was looking straight ahead, had both hands on the steering wheel, and was driving below the posted 30 mph speed limit. Police estimated her speed at the time of the collision to be between 7 and 12 mph.

She stayed at the scene until she was allowed to leave by Pittsfield Police Officer James B. McIntyre who issued her a written warning for failure to yield for a pedestrian in a crosswalk because Calamari was conscious and appeared to have not suffered any life-threatening injuries, according to testimony.

In his final summation to the jury, Cohen used the citation, enlarged to the size of a poster, to make his case for Hazzard's freedom.

"I told you earlier that a picture is worth a thousand words," he told the six-man jury while holding up the citation. "This isn't worth a thousand words, but it is worth two: not guilty."

The attorney said McIntyre had gotten it right the first time and that there was no evidence his client was driving negligently that evening.

"There was no negligence in this case. This is not a homicide case," Cohen told the jury. "It was a pure and simple accident."

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Yorlano, during his final summation, told the jury not to decide the case based on sympathy, but to look at the facts, which he believed showed the defendant acted negligently.

He said that two witnesses were clearly able to see Calamari as he walked across the street that evening and that another witness testified she believed Hazzard was speeding.

According to Yorlano, if the roadway was as dark as Hazzard alleged, she should have been driving more cautiously.

Calamari suffered life-threatening injuries, said Yorlano.

Hazzard's negligence, said the prosecutor, started a chain of events that led to Calamari's death.

With the jury's decision, the criminal case against Hazzard came to an end, but a civil case against her remains pending.

"The jury did the right thing," Cohen told The Eagle after the trial.