Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stasko convicted: involuntary manslaughter

A jury convicted Tyler Stasko on Tuesday of three counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the April 2009 high-speed race along N.C. 49 that ended in the deaths of three people.

The jury in the case deliberated for more than three hours Monday and most of the day before reaching its verdicts. Stasko was sentenced to at least 3 years and nine months in prison – a minimum of 15 months and maximum 18 months for each death.

Stasko, 23, of Matthews, and Carlene Atkinson, 47, of Lake Wylie, are accused of racing at speeds of up to 100 mph when Stasko's Mitsubishi Eclipse smashed into a Mercedes that was entering the highway from the RiverPointe neighborhood near Lake Wylie.

Atkinson's black Chevrolet Camaro wasn't involved in the wreck, but she, too, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder. Her trial date has not been set.

Prosecutors had sought second-degree murder convictions, but Superior Court Judge James Morgan had ruled that jurors would be able to consider whether Stasko is guilty of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter or misdemeanor death by vehicle.

Second-degree murder is punishable by a prison term ranging from about eight years to more than 30 years. The maximum punishment for misdemeanor death by vehicle is 120 days' incarceration.

Jurors chose involuntary manslaughter.

During closing arguments Monday, Clayton Jones told jurors that Stasko had no regard for human life.

"He didn't even care about the passengers in his own car," the prosecutor said.

"They were racing to show off ... It doesn't have to be pre-arranged...It was just a pickup race. But, clearly, it was a race."

Stasko told jurors on Friday that he couldn't remember what happened when his Eclipse slammed into the Mercedes.

He told a police officer not long after the deadly crash that he was traveling between 70 mph and 85 mph. He recalled the Mercedes being stopped when he came over the hill but then it started pulling out into the intersection.

He said there was no way , he said, to maneuver around the Mercedes.

"The car was stopped and pulled out in front of me," he told the police officer. "I tried to hit the brakes."

Defense attorney Falls told the jurors Friday that Stasko is remorseful.

"You can tell he is deeply sorry for what happened," he said.

The defense attorney also argued that there is insufficient evidence to show that Stasko "did it in a malicious manner."

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/12/13/2848217/stasko-verdict-announced.html#ixzz1gSm4wekW

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Correction from yesterdays post: the defense atty is Deke Fells, not Caudill, who is representing C. Atkinson.
Yesterday I noticed a middle-aged african-american in the upper row of the jury who nodded continually while Officer Wood testified. Today I stood behind her in the line to get inside, which snaked out the door. Whenever she entered the courtroom today, she always had a big smile on her face, as if someone told her a good joke in the corridor coming into the room. I guess she is very pleased to be on hand. There were, eventually, more spectators in the court today, not surprising considering there was a front page pic in the paper this morning (Tyler standing at the curb at the scene of this carnage) AND an article with pic on the upper half of the front page of the Local Section. When I entered, Officer Jess Wood was still present and eventually, more spectators appeared to populate the courtroom.

The group around me was like before except the short-spiked-hair lady was missing, as was the scruffy-bearded guy who sat next to me yesterday. The well-draped lady in the cape was back, I think she is C Furr's sister. I caught her glancing in my direction a few times, I am sure she is wondering who I am, sitting behing her row and taking notes. Most of the victims' family members don't mingle with anyone beyond the group that they came with and sit with. I found this odd. One would think they share a common and tragic bond.

There was, before the jury came in, some sort of compromise to allow the jury to view the Med Examiner photos of the 3 victims. The defense's motion to dismiss due to lack of malice was dismissed. The defendant, hereafter referred to as T, was asked to stand. The judge wanted to brief him on the right to testify and the fact that this would include cross examination. T agreed and stated that he would testify. Doing so, it was explained by the judge, allowed the state to have the final argument in front of the jury (in other words, they would have two such attempts).

For the defense, Rhonda Cantelmo, the office mgr at Pleasant Hills Pres Church, testified that Cynthia Furr was the choir director and she verified the church calendar posting an event that Furr would be involved in. No further questions! Then the Pastor, Robert Jack, who has held that position 26 years, testified that Furr was to sing and direct that evening. Again, that was the extent of his testimony. Harry Saldaggio, who lives on the corner where the crash occured, heard the crash while planting flowers and went inside to have his wife call 911. He agreed, on redirect, that one "had to be careful when heading north" towards Charlotte out of River Pointe, because of the hill crest that is above that intersection. Upon recross, he stated one would not be blocking south-bound traffic to get into the middle merge-lane. (Except when one is driving across them to do so, I thought).

The defense then had the 911 call admitted and played. The sound of the emotional woman calling in and answering question after question about what was going on was difficult to so many in the courtroom, several had to flee the room in tears. Questions about babies and bodies and a group of 40 or so trying to help, and please get the Medics to hurry. The baby, McAllister Furr-Price was "limp". Many people in the gallery were hunched over and crying or nearly so.....the call tape went on and on for several minutes: How many people? How many vehicles? How many children? And so on.

Then TS took the stand, he gave his age (23) and stated he got the Eclipse in 6/08, his father co-signed for him. The vehicle was never "souped-up" to his knowledge. He was friends with Sonya (mother of Rex, his front-seat passenger in the wreck) and wss there that afternoon when she asked T to pick up Rex and Hunter from Carowinds, she was busy with something else. Rex testified a couple of days ago, he has an older brother, Chris, with cerebal palsy, T said that he was a "buddy" to Chris, who was around his own age. He proceeded to Carowinds and parked (apparently a pick-up zone) next to a black Camaro. He saw no one in that car. After picking up the 2 boys, he went down S Tryon (hwy 49) and again saw the Camaro. At Shopton Rd "it came up beside me". That driver revved the engine. He had no memory of coming to the crest of the hill (nearing River Pte) and he blacked out. He remembered the helicopter ride to the hospital and was told he had a broken femur........NO mention of racing whatsoever and I began to wonder if and when it would come.

During this testimony T's father sat on the bench with his arms crossed in front of him. Doesn't body language tell us that arms-crossed means I disbelieve what I am hearing? Next to him, a distinguished older gentleman with white hair, apparently a grandfather who came down from Ohio for this trial.
Would the recording of the interview with police be "your best evidence"?
This tape (first interview) was played. Speeds of 85 mph were admitted to. The Camaro contained (girl) friends of T's young passengers. Where, he wondered on the tape, was the Camaro at the time of the accident? I believe he stated he asked this of an officer at the scene. WHY was he concerned about the Camero if not racing, I wanted someone to ask him. No one ever did. The second taped interview was played.....speeds of "only" 70 to 80, "cruising" he called it. He denied blacking out on that one.

He stated that his license (Ohio)was suspended for lack of ins that lapsed 2-3 wks prior but he quickly remedied that. He had the license on him at the time of the crash.
Did anyone (in the cars) mention racing?
Whatever happened happened at the spur of the moment?
Did you mean for this to happen?

Then it was time for the mid-morning break, I walked to the granite and brass spiral staircase down the hall to gaze at the view of downtown from there. A man was walking down and said to another man, approaching from behind, "Well, Mr Caudill!" as a greeting. Is this the Caudill who is listed as the attorney for the other defendant, Carlene Atkinson? I came back from break early----apparently people like their full breaks---and only a handfull of people in the room, including the defendant, who was emotional, and his bespeckled sister, who stood behing him rubbing his shoulders. No Deputies in site. What if someone decided to attack somebody in that room at that moment?

The cross examination was anti-climatic and that is putting it mildly. The DA did the whole thing as more of a conversation, at conversational tones, no raising of the voice or hostility. One would think they were on the same side. He (T) knew Rex's mother, Sonja, thru her boyfriend who worked contruction with Tyler. He hung out and befriended the boy with cere. palsy in the household. He visited most weekends there. The Camaro, that day, was rocking back and forth from revving the engine. He said "I started speeding when SHE did". He stated he did not recall police interviews and had no independent memory of the crash.
Did Cynthia Furr pull out in front of you?
I don't remember.
YOU drove the way your drove?
All on your own?
Never had a NC driver license (tho' you moved here in 2007 a year after your parents)?
You heard the testimony of J. Woods that there were no skidmarks. (This belies claims of hitting the brakes). Could you have merely assumed that you braked?
Is this Cynthia Furr's fault?
(hesitation), Its everybody's fault, mostly mine.

Never was any direct statement or even a question about "weren't the two of you racing even if you and the other driver did not agree to it?" Just vague talk of the black Camaro, beside me, behind me, or I don't know where it ended up.

That last statement was enough (of an admission) apparently, and the defendant was excused. Other witnesses----character witnesses all---included Sgt Dan Merwin, CMPD officer of 21 years. He first met the Staskos in 2005(?) at St John Union Catholic Church, where he said T was still an usher on Sunday evenings. All of these folks testified to the defendant's good, honest, and upright nature.
Cross exanination: Did you investigate this incident?
Is the CMPD professional?
Would the work of the CMPD "Major Crash Unit" be credible to you?
DId you ever ride with the defendant?
No but daughter did (thru the Youth Group at church).
In response to a question, "I have no idea how fast he was going" only what I read in the papers. He also agreed the papers were not always accurate and also, he would have no problem with his children (21 and 23) riding with T.

A Ms Sacraponte (sp) from the church was next. Same general praises were given.
Were you aware the defendant's license was suspended at time of this wreck?
Is this (level of) speeding something a good guy would do?
It is not a mistake he would make again.

Then an elderly neighbor, Linda Gleason. T used to mow my grass, walk my dog, play with the neighbor kids.
defense: You drove the Stasko parents to the hospital upon hearing of this crash. Did the police keep Mr Stasko from seeing his son (in intensive care)?
Cross: you know none of the witnesses who told of the crash and carnage?
Would you allow your children/grandchildren to ride with T?
Probably not.

Next, Gabriel Palombaro (sp), who lived next to T. He was self-employed and hired Tyler in his construction business, "sheetrock, carpentry, painting, everything". T would also occasionall babysit. The same questions as above, and Yes, he has and would ride with T driving.

The last of these character witnesses was the closest to the incident: Sonja Komarinski(sp), the mother of Rex Thomas, the surviving child in T's car. T hung out and was buddies with her other son Chris, the one with c/b. Did she clear with Hunter's parents that T was the one picking the boys up at Carowinds?
It was brought out, on cross, that her son was interviewed by Police, in her presence, and he told them that they were racing. Did she recall that?
....apparently she did not (I found this not credible in the least).
But you wrote a letter to the defense atty in praise of T. Do you feel some responsibilty for sending Tyler to pick up the two boys?
Would you let your son ride in the car driven by this defendant?
(hesitation)....I believe I would.

The picture that was painted by this was a good young man who at age 20, made the biggest mistake of his life. Up to that point he was good almost to the point of unbelievability: a do-gooder working at church, attending to a young man with cerebal palsy---not his sibling and with nothing in common---- and walking little old ladies across the street and everything else in the world that most young men his age would NEVER do (but of course should). And was he so lacking in a social life, this good-looking tall lean young man----were there ever dates, girls, boys, beer parties with the guys, and so on? It was never something that would come out at a trial but I could not help but think about it.

So how, then, did that day turn out so awful for everyone involved? How good, really, was he? In no way could this question be answered to the satisfaction of those people in the gallery. Are some "good" people holding some terrible potentials inside, waiting for the right moment to explode? Surely I was not the only one in that room who would walk away with that big question mark in their head.

The Defense asked that the Medical Examiner reports on the 3 victims be admitted into evidence (why would such reports and pics benefit his client?) and then by the DA this quote from a state ordinance:"No person shall operate a motor vehicle in this state where the license was under suspension in another state" or words close to that. SO his license WAS suspended at the time of the accident, apparently. Why did this not come up in cross examination? The judge ruled it could be revealed to the jury once they returned to the room. It appears that the defense case has rested.

With that I left...it was noon or so. On the way out, in the tiny press room some folks were listening to the proceedings by earphones and others were reading or dictating copy to someone on the other end of their phone or phones. It was a tiny closet of a room with 4 people in it, too claustophobic for me.

It is my last day in the courtroom as a new work assigment/training class awaits me on Monday morning.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Passive Attendee at His Own Trial

When I arrived today, 12/8, in the Mecklenburg Superior Court bldg at 900 AM, I thought I was late. When I finally found the courtroom, the door was locked. I was told by a cameraman sitting in a side-conference room that the courtroom doors don't get unlocked til 915 and proceedings start at 930. I am obviously new at this. With time, spectators came in, but all looked to be associated with victims or defendants (plus the press on the long bench along the back)...the defendant's side contained one bench of family and supporters, and the DA side---where I sat on the last row---- eventually filled with over 2 dozen persons, which I believe were lead by the parents of Hunter Holt, followed by a row of Cynthia Furr and McAllister Furr survivors. This row, from the inside aisle side, started with an elderly couple, well dressed, then a middle-aged woman, hair teased in a modern coiff and wrapped in a grey and black cape, wool, with fringes---very well dressed. The group on that row got a bit more motley as it moved down to the outer part, where I sat, capped with a wide-bodied female with spikey short hair and a couple of grandma types directly in front of me. The man to my left had an ungroomed beard, tshirt, jeans, and looked like he just came off a construction site. The lack of public attendees (like me) was surprising due to the fact that this story with photo was the top half of the newpaper today, Local Section. I guess people would rather just get the edited version from sitting at home, TV or paper.

The DA requested a jury visit to the site of the crash.....this was eventually granted for this afternoon---I was glad this trek would not shorten my visit this morning. Watching the defendant, Tyler Stasko, I was struck by the fact that he stared only ahead or at the wooden bar in front of his desk, he was completely passive as to the events going on before him. It was as if he is resigned to his fate and is merely going thru the motions, showing up where and when he has to, waiting for the inevitable. To some degree, his attorney, Mr Caudill was likewise. He objected as much as he could---the inclusion of the previous license suspension and of the child seat in use in the Furr vehicle---but to what effect? This solid-looking jury would not likely be swayed by what, so far, has been that a-good-boy-made-a-mistake theory that has been put forth so far. Will this be the closing argument as well? If so, it is a lame one indeed. But what else has he to work with? I assume the attorney informed the family that he had little to work with here.

Officer Jess Wood, a ram-rod straight clean-cut member of the "major crash investigation unit" testified about his attendence at the site once he answered the on-call page he received. Over a dozen pics of the site were shown, Wood narrated what all of us were watching. The vehicle of the Furr victims was the most riveting, the axels were visible, but everything in between was completely unrecognizable as a vechicle. The officer stated that the frame of the Mercedes was broken----meaning that when the tow truck tried to lift it, it collasped in 2 pieces. After this slide show, interest in the courtroom began to flag: people wandered out and short-term viewers on the back row/media row began to drift as well. Were they looking for a more interesting trial elsewhere in the building to attend? There is no doubt that listening to the details of the "linear momentum method" of crash reconstruction theory was not the most interesting to hear. The fact that there were no pre-impact skid marks at the point of impact was noteworthy, it means the Stasko car could not or did not brake prior to impact.

While typing this I watched the local NBC channel, the jury visit was taped and shown, with generous coverage showing the defendant. It was mentioned that the DA's case now concludes and the defense will take over, and their case will be based on the theory that the driver/victim, Cynthia Furr, was distracted by the child seat (because her daughter was not in it?) and thus deflecting blame.

I will be back in the courtroom tomorrow for my last visit, due to new job assignment that starts the following week.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Witness: Cars racing at 100 mph
By Gary L. Wright
By Gary L. Wright The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011
Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011 Stasko

More Information
Full Slideshow

Karl Smith recalled in court Wednesday how he was driving on N.C. 49 on April 4, 2009 when two cars blew past him.

Smith told the Mecklenburg jurors that he was traveling about 70 mph. The two cars that passed him, he said, were going at least 100 mph.

Moments later, Smith came upon a wreck involving one of the cars that had passed him. Smith also spotted a Mercedes on its side and went to help. Inside, he spotted a woman.

"I tried to talk to her," Smith recalled..."I didn't get a vocal response at all."

Asked by a prosecutor about the woman's condition, Smith replied: "Dead on arrival."

Smith was one of several prosecution witnesses who have testified that they saw two cars racing at speeds up to 100 mph along N.C. 49 before the wreck that killed a woman, her 2-year-old daughter and a teenager.

Tyler Stasko is charged with three counts of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Stasko's Mitsubishi Eclipse was traveling at least 86 mph when it struck the Mercedes driven by Cynthia Furr.

Furr, a 45-year-old Winthrop University professor, and her daughter, McAllister, were killed. Thirteen-year-old Hunter Holt, a passenger in Stasco's car, also died.

Stasko, 23, and Carlene Atkinson, 47, are accused of racing when the Mercedes was struck while entering N.C. 49 from the RiverPointe neighborhood near Lake Wylie.

Atkinson's black Chevrolet Camaro wasn't involved in the wreck, but she, too, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder. Her trial date has not been set.

During testimony Wednesday, Lori Savio told jurors she saw an Eclipse smash into the Mercedes.

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/12/07/2833796/witness-cars-racing-at-100-mph.html#ixzz1ftytFsFM

Jury Selected in racing death trial/Stasko

Jury selected in racing death trial
By Gary L Wright
By Gary L Wright The Charlotte Observer
Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 06, 2011
Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 06, 2011 A jury of seven men and five women has been selected in the trial of Tyler Stasko, who is accused of killing a mother and her 2-year-old daughter and a teen-ager in a high-speed wreck in April 2009.

Late Tuesday morning, lawyers for the prosecution and the defense were selecting jury alternates.

Prosecution and defense attorneys are expected to give their opening statements to the jury later today. Prosecutors will then begin presenting their evidence.

Stasko, 23, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder.

Stasko and Carlene Atkinson, 47, are accused of racing at speeds of up to 100 mph when Stasko’s Mitsubishi Eclipse smashed into a Mercedes that was entering N.C. 49 from the RiverPointe neighborhood near Lake Wylie.

Killed in the Mercedes were 45-year-old Winthrop University professor Cynthia Furr and her daughter, McAllister. A passenger in Stasko’s car, 13-year-old Hunter Holt, also died.

Atkinson’s black Chevrolet Camaro wasn’t involved in the wreck, but she, too, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder. She will be tried separately from Stasko.

Atkinson’s bail was originally set at $3 million. She’s been convicted of speeding 15 times, according to prosecutors. Her bail was later reduced to $900,000. Stasko’s bond was set at $45,000.

Both Atkinson of Lake Wylie and Stasko of Matthews are out of jail, but they’ve been prohibited from driving while awaiting trial.

Prosecutors did not offer plea deals to Stasko and Atkinson. Each of the second-degree murder charges is punishable by prison sentences ranging from about eight years to more than 30 years.

During a bail hearing in May 2009, then Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow said witnesses estimated the speeds of Atkinson’s and Stasko’s cars at between 70 mph and 100 mph. Stasko’s car was traveling at 83 mph when it struck the Mercedes, the prosecutor said.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nerves of Steel

On or about 11/17/2011----times flies, there has been no Carlene news in over 1 1/2 years--Carlene A applied to the court to get her drivers license back! Now here is a woman facing 3 counts of murder via drag racing and she needs, now, to drive to her job. It would be interesting to know who would hire this drag-racin' granny and what did her job application say about what she has been doing the past 30 months or so: "unemployed, awaiting trial, three cases second degree murder".....whoa! And if she did drive to work, what insurance company would insure her? Or would she skip this messy detail--as she clearly has little to lose at this stage? And how did she land the apartment

Explanation: there is a slightly altered version of this same blog by me, I was unable to access the original, suddenly I could, so there are 2, same information. You can see I have been away too long from this blog, but there has been nothing to report. Thanks to those who provided this latest info.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Story Until Now

It appears that 44 yr old Carlene Atkinson and 20 yr old Tyler Stasko did not know each other as they departed Carowinds Theme Park the first Saturday eve of April '09. Why would they? They lived on opposite ends of the "metro Charlotte area" and both were escorting two youngsters out of the park and home: Atkinson's 13-yr-old daughter and a 14 yr old friend of same, and Stasko had two young males in tow (relationship unclear, perhaps from a church group). Now their names are intertwined in a despicable, disgusting infamy: both are charged with 3 counts of second-degree murder in the street drag-racing deaths of a Winthrop U professor, her small daughter, and a middle-school student in the Stasko car by the name of Hunter Holt.

Witnesses said that speeds up to 100 mph were achieved along NC 49 very near Lake Wylie, NC in this reckless trek that left Cynthia Furr, her 2 1/2 year old daughter McAllister, and Holt dead. The Eclipse driven by Stasko broad-sided the Furr car, turning her Mercedes on its roof. Ms Furr was on her way to a church event at 6:44PM when this happened. The primer-painted decade-old Camero driven by Atkinson was not directly involved in the crash, but according to witnesses she pulled over, looked over this scene of carnage, and declared "Lets go", taking off with her two young charges still on board. Police caught up with her later at home and impounded the car and carted her off to jail. (one article stated that one of the passengers--perhaps the friend of the Atkinson daughter--returned to the scene later in that same evening, perhaps with parents in tow, and presumably spilled some beans. Stasko was arrested once he was discharged from the hospital.

It came out in the press that Atkinson had been cited 19 times in the MOST RECENT 10 years for speeding violations, including one charge still pending at the time of this incident. Her speeding history did not meet the threshold for license suspension, but one wonders how she could afford auto insurance, or who would underwrite it. She has no license now. Once this "lady"---who is a grandmother according to a birth-listing in the local paper, a listing now removed from the web--- managed to make bail, the paper said "Woman in drag-racing death-case can attend church, Judge rules" or something to that effect.
Young Stasko is also going the "good Christian boy" route, according to an interview his father John gave a reporter who showed up uninvited at his door. In this delightfully superficial and self-serving interview, Papa John said that Tyler's future plans included a stint in the Air Force and a career in Law Enforcement. It was unclear if anyone in the Stasko household is still holding to these unrealistic aims.

According to an email from a Charlotte Observer reporter responding to my query, this case will not go to trial til 2011 due to backlog. He believes that they will be tried together---saves the state time and money this way-- something that cannot be comforting to the Stasko's. It is also noteworthy that neither party was offered a plea deal----the DA is going for the max. It will be interesting to see if any of the surviving young passengers will testify.... presumably for the prosecution.

I decided to check out the Aktinson residence and found that it was not at all the tony "Lake Wylie" domicile that the press gives for Mark and Carlene Atkinson: instead, it is located on a semi-rural dead-end outside of York, SC. A house or trailer--I couldn't tell which---hidden behind a thicket of woods and small pasture with 2 or 3 horses on it. A stockyard-style iron fence over a gravel drive had a rusted sign posted above it, "POSTED:Keep Out". I don't know how Atkinson---a former counter clerk at the coffee shop on the campus of Belmont Abbey College---managed to make bail, but believe me, it was NOT accomplished by signing over this or any other property on the pretentiously-named street Chalet Court.

Now that the defendants have entered their respective Not Guilty pleas, no further hard news on this case is expected til trial, sometime next year. Maybe TruTV would be interested in covering it? The trial should be as riveting as the crime is unfathomable.