Niagara Gazette

February 20, 2014

Plea offer weighed in fatal Tuscarora Indian Reservation crash

By Rick Pfeiffer rick.pfeiffer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — A South Dakota teenager, facing a 19-count indictment in connection with a fatal accident on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, now has a new lawyer and a plea offer from prosecutors to consider.

Skyler Zephier, 19, appeared in Niagara County Court on Wednesday, with veteran defense attorney Dominic Saracino, who replaced his former public defender.

Zephier is charged with criminally negligent homicide, second-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, two counts of aggravated vehicular manslaughter, two counts of second-degree vehicular assault, second-degree assault, two counts of driving while intoxicated, two counts of driving while under the influence of drugs, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, leaving the scene of a serious injury accident and numerous vehicle and traffic law violations including reckless driving and imprudent speed, in connection with the Sept. 8 crash on Susie’s Lane on the reservation.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in lieu of bail of $100,000.

Assistant District Attorney Theodore Brenner told Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas that Zephier has been offered a deal that would require him to plead guilty to one count of driving while intoxicated, one count of second-degree manslaughter and one count of second-degree vehicular assault. In return for that plea, Farkas said she had agreed to cap Zephier’s possible prison term at between three to nine years.

Saracino asked the judge for “some time” to consider the offer.

Prosecutors say Zephier was at the wheel of a Ford Explorer that was traveling south on Susie’s Lane, when it failed to yield to a car at the intersection of Upper Mountain Road. As the SUV went into the intersection, it struck the car, driving it into a field.

The force of the crash flipped the SUV and left a passenger, Brett McKee, 18, of Lewiston, pinned underneath it. Prosecutors said McKee, a resident of the Tuscarora Reservation, was asphyxiated after being caught in his seat belt.

Witnesses told police they saw a man “in a gray shirt, standing in the roadway, covered in blood.” The witnesses also said the man “got into a car and left the scene.”

Investigators determined the man in the gray shirt was Zephier and they tracked him to a home on Mount Hope Road. He was also hospitalized at that time with non-life threatening injuries.

The driver of the car, a 38-year-old man, also suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Prosecutors have said Zephier had a blood alcohol level of 0.09 percent, hours after the crash. They also said there was evidence of “drugs” in his blood.