When Daniel Conklin was asked why he led Herkimer police on a high-speed car chase minutes before a deadly crash in May, Conklin told the officer, “Because I don’t have a license.”
So instead of simply stopping after speeding through a school zone, Conklin set in motion the series of events on May 24 that ended with another motorist’s death and the possibility that 24-year-old Conklin could face the rest of his life in prison.
Conklin, of Rochester, was charged Monday for the first time in connection to the death of 65-year-old Gail Pietruska, who was killed when Conklin’s vehicle slammed into the Frankfort woman’s SUV on State Route 5 in the town of Schuyler.
Conklin was arraigned in Herkimer County Court on a sealed 15-count indictment, including second-degree manslaughter, first- and second-degree unlawfully fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle, second-degree assault, second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation and multiple traffic infractions.
Conklin pleaded not guilty to the charges and is due to appear again in front of Judge John Crandall on Wednesday, Aug. 29.
While prosecutors alleged Conklin carries heavy blame in this deadly crash, Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter said he believes Herkimer police did nothing wrong in this case.
“It is my opinion and my conclusion the police officer acted responsibly and within the proper procedure and protocol of pursuing a motor vehicle,” Carpenter said.
Both of Conklin’s legs were broken in the crash at speeds nearing 90 miles per hour, so he hobbled into court using a cane during the proceeding.
Because attorney Donald Manley had just been assigned to represent Conklin, he declined to comment after the proceeding.
Among the charges Conklin faces — violating the law named after state Trooper Craig Todeschini, who was killed in 2006 while pursuing a speeding motorcyclist in Onondaga County.
According to his indictment, Conklin is charged with fleeing from Herkimer village police Officer Jody Wheet at speeds exceeding 80 mph in a 55 mph zone.
“The driver of that vehicle simply could have pulled over when a police vehicle had activated its emergency lights for what started out simply as being a speeding violation in a school zone,” Carpenter said of Conklin.
“What reason he chose not to pull over, who knows? You’ll have to ask him that,” Carpenter said.
According to a statement attached to Conklin’s court file, however, Conklin simply explained to Wheet he fled because he didn’t have a license.
Conklin’s license had been suspended on four prior occasions, and the terms of his most recent parole state that he wasn’t supposed to leave Monroe County.
So because of Conklin’s history of breaking the law, Carpenter said Conklin faces the possibility of life in prison if he is convicted and sentenced as a persistent felony offender.