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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: November 13, 2015
A wooden table with a gavel and car keys - Leckerman Law, LLC

23-year-old Sean Sperl of Lansdale, who was found guilty in the death of a friend in a 2013 accident, was cleared of the DUI homicide charge by a jury.

Sperl was facing the most serious charge of DUI homicide, after the crash that killed 21-year-old Ryan Petrille. However, the same jury that convicted him of the charge now acquitted him.

The accident caused by Sperl resulted in the explosion of his car that split in half, resulting in the death of his friend.

The incident took place on 22 April, 2013 when Sperl, Petrille, and Ryan Benner went to Phillies game with a group of friends. During the game, they drank beer and liquor. According to the testimony given at trial, they were on their way home in another friend’s car. When they arrived back in Lansdale, all three of them got into Sperl’s car with plans to go to a strip club. Petrille was riding in the backseat.

As Sperl was driving his Honda Civic at more than 80 m.p.h., he lost control around a sharp curve on Ridge Road in Salford Township. The car hit a utility pole, splitting in half and exploded. The front and back halves of the car went flying in opposite directions.

During the trial, Benner testified that he was travelling in the passenger seat. After the accident, he discovered Petrille’s body at the scene. In his emotional testimony, he said that he went into shock when he saw his best friend dead and he fled the scene.

Sperl however testified that he does not remember the incident clearly. He said that he suffered a concussion and wandered away from the scene. He later woke up confused in a nearby shed a few hours later and walked over to a close by resident to call the police.

In a recording of the conversation played at trial, he told the state troopers, “I’m drunk, and I crashed a car and possibly killed somebody.”

His blood alcohol came out 0.175%, four hours after the accident, which is more than double the legal limit allowed for driving in the state.

According to Rebecca Geiser, the Assistant District Attorney, “That four-hour time lapse was problematic in the case.” However, she said that the not-guilty verdict on DUI charges was disappointing and that the jury did find Sperl responsible for Petrille’s death.

As the jury announced the verdict, Sperl remained expressionless but Petrille’s family cried. Throughout the weeklong trial, the courtroom was packed with Petrille’s family and friends. They were not pleased with the outcome of the trial.

Sperl thanked the jury as he left the courtroom Friday saying, “I just want to thank the jury for giving me a fair trial.”

Had he faced the maximum penalty, it would have carried a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in jail as opposed to one year on the counts on which he was convicted. The maximum jail term for leaving the scene would be 10 years; for homicide by vehicle, seven years.

His attorney Charles Mandracchia said that Sperl was “very relieved” by the verdict, but he must spend one year at least in prison for leaving the scene of the accident. The defense attorney argued that Sperl could have consumed alcohol after the accident, based on the bottles found in the car.

The defense attorney also argued that Sperl might not have been driving and that the placement of the utility pole on a dangerous road, on a dangerous curve, might have caused the accident.

In the closing arguments, the District Attorney said that the defense team was simply playing “the blame game,” but in the end, the jury acquitted Sperl of the DUI homicide charge as well as the two counts of DUI.

“I could not have asked for a better jury,” said Sperl.

Geiser also said that she would argue for consecutive sentences, but Mandracchia said he would work to keep Sperl out of prison beyond the mandatory year.

Petrille’s mother, Jill, was also not happy at all with the verdict. “We’re absolutely disappointed,” she said. “We think it sends a bad message out to the community, that you can drink and drive and you can get away with it.”

Sperl is scheduled to appear before Judge Gary S. Silow at a later date for his sentencing.

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