On November 18, 2009, a Westchester County jury found 25 year old George Kiaha guilty of vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the September 4, 2009 death of Cortlandt resident Ralph Wood. It was alleged that on that date, Mr. Kiaha was driving while intoxicated with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.11 when his car crossed a double yellow line and struck the car Mr. Wood was a passenger in. The legal limit for intoxication is 0.08 percent. Wood’s vehicle was also occupied by his daughter, her fiance, and three grandchildren, who were all injured.
Mr. Kiaha was also convicted of 5 counts of reckless driving and DWI for each of the other occupants of the vehicle. Those counts are misdemeanors. The prosecution introduced evidence of bottles of Bud Light in Kiaha’s vehicle as well as the testimony of emergency personnel who claimed that they smelled alcohol on Mr. Kiaha’s breath. The defense countered with the argument that there was a “chain of custody” issue with Mr. Kiaha’s blood (an argument that was successfully utilized in the O.J. Simpson murder trial back in 1995) and that the police were never able to determine the speed of Kiaha’s vehicle. However, it appears that the jury was not persuaded by these arguments; they returned a guilty verdict in three hours.
The 2nd degree vehicular manslaughter charge is a felony under section 125.12 of the New York State Penal Law and carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in jail. The criminally negligent homicide charge is a class E felony under section 125.10 of the Penal Law and has a maximum jail term of 4 years. Mr. Kiaha will be sentenced by Westchester Court Judge Barbara Zambelli on February 22, 2011.