Pretrial hearing set in Sheffield crosswalk death

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A local man charged with vehicular homicide in the Sheffield crosswalk death of a popular local actress was in court on Monday.

Edward Leibenow, 34, faces charges of vehicular homicide by negligent operation and failing to yield to a pedestrian. On Monday morning, Judge William A. Rota scheduled his next court appearance, a pretrial hearing, for Aug. 3 at 9 a.m. in Southern Berkshire District Court.

On April 24, Leibenow was driving south on Route 7 at about 6:15 p.m. when his Chevy Silverado pickup struck Gillian Seidl, 78. Seidl is the co-founder of Mixed Company, a Great Barrington-based theater group. She had also been an actress for the past six decades.

Siedl, who was a Sheffield resident, was crossing west to east and headed for the Bushnell-Sage Library.

Seidl was struck by Liebenow's truck. Despite the efforts of two bystanders attempting to revive her, she died of her injuries at the scene, according to Sheffield police.

Leibenow faces penalties that include up to a 15-year loss of license, a possible fine of $3,000 and between 30 days and 2 1/2 years in prison for the vehicular homicide charge. The failure to stop charge is a civil infraction.

A preliminary report by the Sheffield Police ruled out alcohol as a possible factor in the accident. There was some speculation about potential windshield glare as a cause, as well. But investigating officer Jacob Gonska of the Sheffield police drove the route under similar conditions a few days later. He eventually ruled that scenario out.

The accident has sparked local officials to petition the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit in that part of Sheffield from 35 to 25 miles per hour.

In May, the state came and added new sign plates to alert drivers to pedestrians. The signs recommend slowing to 25 mph in this stretch, but the speed limit is still 35 mph there. The town had asked MassDOT to remove the 35 mph signs because they were confusing drivers.

But the June 28 response from Francisca Heming, the state Department of Transportation's local highway director, indicates the agency wants to keep traffic flowing through the village.

She said that the 35 mph signs have to stay and that the 25 mph "advisory" signs are "commonly used in similar situations" on other state-owned roads.

The selectmen have, in the past, pointed out that while Route 7 is a state highway, that segment of the road actually passes through the village center.

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-629-4621.


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