The suspect involved in Thursday’s fatal collision on State Route 5 in the town of Schuyler is recovering from non-life threatening injuries and is in the custody of authorities.
Capt. Mark Lincoln, with state police Troop D, said Friday Daniel E. Conklin, 24, of Rochester, suffered two broken femurs and one broken arm, and is being held on a parole warrant in the prison ward at University Hospital in Syracuse. Conklin is under the supervision of the state Division of Parole after serving part of a sentence for fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, Lincoln said.
According to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website, Conklin’s previous convictions also include third-degree burglary and fourth-degree grand auto larceny, and he has been incarcerated three times.
Herkimer Police Chief Joseph Malone said the village police department state police are working with the county District Attorney’s Office to determine what charges should be brought against Conklin.
Lincoln said those charges will then be decided by a grand jury.
The chain of events unraveled in the span of five minutes, which started with a traffic infraction in the village of Herkimer, and which subsequently resulted in a fatal crash six miles away.
Herkimer Police Officer Jody Wheet clocked Conklin speeding through a 15 mph school zone at 39 mph by Herkimer High School on German Street, said Malone adding Conklin sped off onto Route 5 and was pursued by Wheet.
Initial reports stated Rebecca Mento was pushed out of the moving vehicle on East German Street, but Lincoln said on Friday that information is a bit “murky.” He said other witnesses have stated the car may have pulled over first, before she got out.
“We’re trying to pin down what happened,” said Lincoln. “We have conflicting stories.”
Lincoln also said the relationship between Conklin and Mento was unclear at the time to authorities, and added “there was some type of argument or dispute going on inside the vehicle.”
Wheet attempted to drive ahead of Conklin’s vehicle in order to stop it once Conklin slowed slightly to force Mento from the vehicle, Malone said. That’s when Conklin’s vehicle sped up again and attempted to ram Wheet’s police vehicle before passing, he said.
As the chase continued down Route 5, two police vehicles from Ilion and the village of Frankfort began to follow Wheet’s vehicle, but had not yet begun to actively join the pursuit, Malone said.
State troopers were also heading from another direction to get ahead of Conklin’s vehicle on Route 5 with plans to deploy “stop sticks” to rupture the car’s tires, Malone said.
Once the pursuit reached speeds nearing 80 mph, that’s when Wheet and a supervisor made the decision to terminate the chase, Malone said. Moments later, Conklin’s 2003 Kia collided into the driver’s side of the 2006 Toyota SUV driven by Gail Pietruska, of Frankfort, around 11 a.m., as she attempted to make a left onto Route 5 from Paratore Road.
Page 2 of 2 - Pietruska, 65, was first taken to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica and was then airlifted by medevac to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse for internal injuries, state police said.
The passenger in Pietruska’s vehicle was her sister, Louise Medallis, 54. State police said Medallis suffered back pain and was taken to St. Elizabeth’s for treatment.
State police reported Thursday evening Pietruska had died from her injuries. As of Friday afternoon, Medallis was in fair condition. Mento was also examined at St. Elizabeth’s and was released.
Some questions have risen as to whether a village police officer should have been pursuing a suspect outside of his jurisdiction. “We have a policy, and he followed it to the letter. No doubt [Wheet] was justified in what he did,” said Malone on Friday.
Malone also said, “You take into account this whole event took less than five minutes, over six miles. That’s not a lot of time this transpired. At the time of the accident, he was breaking it off. It was not worth the risk anymore.”
The chief said several factors are taken into consideration before pursuing a suspect.
“If it was a minor traffic violation, he would have just discontinued [the pursuit],” said Malone, noting the situation changed when Mento was injured when leaving the car.
“Was it an abduction? Was there a child in the car? You don’t know,” he said.
Contributing: Gatehouse News Service