Hit-and-run trial underway for 2015 death of Sheckler student
The trial of a hit-and-run accident Nov. 6, 2015, nearly a year ago, started Monday before Judge Michael Koury Jr. and is expected to finish today.
Nine-year-old Darious Condash was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing Schoenersville Road at night with an older cousin and friend. They were returning home after purchasing candy at Wawa in Hanover Township. Darious dropped a piece while crossing a five-lane highway, darted out from the median to retrieve it and was hit by a car that never stopped.
A jury consisting of eight men and four women will decide the fate of Royce Atkins, 23, who was driving the blue Mazda that struck and killed Darious.
Atkins has been charged with failing to stop and render assistance at the scene of an accident involving death or serious bodily injury. If convicted, he faces a mandatory three-year sentence.
A roadside memorial at the Wawa exit onto Schoenersville Road still honors the fourth-grade football player who attended Sheckler Elementary School in Catasauqua. His football helmet and two balloons are attached to a pole near the spot where he was killed, as cars whiz by in both directions.
On the eastern end of the county, Darious is being remembered, too — not as a son, student or standout football player at the East Side Youth Center, but as the victim of a fatal hit and run.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Lupackino asked jurors to use their common sense. He said the evidence would show the 9-year-old boy was directly in Atkins’ sight.
Not so, argued criminal defense Attorney Jack McMahon, who represents Atkins.
“The worst nightmare any parent has is to lose a child,” he said, arguing the evidence would show no crime was committed. He called the situation a “tragic confluence of circumstances” in which “nobody really did anything wrong.”
McMahon said Atkins would take the stand and testify he knew he had hit something but thought it was a pothole or deer. He indicated the jury would learn Atkins is a “good kid” who was working that day as an auto mechanic. He drank no alcohol that day, his car was legally inspected and he had insurance, McMahon said.
As he made his opening, numerous family members and friends of Atkins sat on one side of the courtroom, while Darious’ family and friends were on the other side.
Michael Wile, who works at the Sunoco Gas Station on Airport Road, was the commonwealth’s first witness. He said he knew Darious, was a neighbor and walked to Wawa himself that evening. He explained they all cross the road near Wawa instead of at the crosswalk farther up the road. He was following Darious and the two older kids who were with him and did see some candy fall out of the bag they were carrying.
As they crossed the street, Wile checked his cellphone when he heard a “loud bang.” The car that struck Darious just kept going, as did the cars behind, Wile said.
Wile called 911.
Dominick Rogers, who was 15 at the time of the hit and run, was with Darious and his girlfriend at Wawa, and the trio was walking home. Darious darted from the median and into the road to pick up the dropped candy. He went into what Koury described as a football stance and was hit. His chest and head went up and over the hood of the car, and the child was “flying in the air.”
Atkins had a party at his home that night. Ian Quier was there. Atkins showed his friends the car, saying he thought he had hit a deer or a pothole. Quier said Atkins instructed them not to take pictures or discuss the matter.
Quier said he and a friend looked for this deer on Steuben Road, where Atkins had claimed the incident occurred. They were unable to locate the deer but had in the meantime heard about the fatality on Schoenersville Road.
Quier, who said his conscience was bothering him, contacted police.
Colonial Regional Police Detective Gary Hammer, unable to find Atkins at home, located him at Scott Mazda, where he works as a mechanic.
“I’m the one who hit the kid,” Atkins admitted to him, according to Hammer.
Hammer also took a video statement from Atkins, which was played for the jury. Atkins said he thought he hit a speed bump or a small deer. He pulled into the nearby Oasis to check his car for damage, but it was too crowded. He said he only became aware of the severity of the damage when he got home.
Forensic experts with Pennsylvania State Police were able to match debris from the accident scene with Atkins’ car. They found trace amounts of paint from the clothing Darious was wearing on Atkins’ car. They also found bloodstains.
Trooper Brianne Glad, an accident reconstruction expert, agreed with McMahon there are no streetlights along the side of the road where the accident occurred. She said Schoenersville Road is a five-lane highway in that area, with each lane being 12 to 14 inches wide.
Glad identified a photograph of an untied sneaker worn by Darious, located some distance from where he was found, in the center of the road.
While testimony continues, Atkins is free on 10 percent of $50,000 bail.
Editor’s note: Due to press deadlines, this story details the first two days of Atkins’ trial. See continuing coverage in next week’s edition of the Catasauqua Press.