Tonawanda man charged in crash that killed woman in apartment

Jul 29, 2019

A Town of Tonawanda man accused of crashing his car into an apartment complex at a high rate of speed, killing a 94-year-old resident, faces murder and vehicular manslaughter charges in the case. The Erie County District Attorney says pursuing a murder charge will be difficult but he sees this case as an example of what could happen on local roads if marijuana were to become legal.

Edward Harris, age 33, entered a plea of not guilty when arraigned Monday morning before State Supreme Court Justice Paul Wojtaszek. He's charged with one count of Murder in the Second Degree and one count of Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree. If convicted of the murder count, Harris could face 25 years to life in prison.

Edward Harris, second from right, listens to Judge Paul Wojtaszek during his arraignment Monday in State Supreme Court.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

He's accused of driving a car far in excess of the speed limit on Oakridge Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda in the evening of March 26, 2019, crossing Delaware Avenue, entering a parking a lot and then slamming into the Ken-Ton Presbyterian Village apartments. Inside her unit was 94-year-old Lida Alminate, who was struck by flying debris caused by the crash.

District Attorney John Flynn would not go into details but told reporters following the arraignment that laboratory tests revealed the presence of marijuana in Harris' system at the time of the crash.

"I am charging him with Murder in the Second Degree under the theory of depraved indifference," said Flynn. "His actions, the speed that he was traveling on a residential road, crossing Delaware, crashing into an apartment building and killing this 94-year-old innocent victim, in my opinion, reaches the level of depraved indifference."

In court, Harris' defense attorney Frank LoTempio stated his client is a military veteran receiving treatment and medication for various health issues, and has a legal prescription for medical marijuana.

"He's an honorable discharge from the Marines," said Harris' defense attorney Frank LoTempio outside the courtroom. "As a result of those tours, he has PTSD and some depression that he's been treating for some time now."

In court, LoTempio advised the judge that Harris has a legal prescription for medical marijuana and has also dealt with health issues including narcolepsy, explaining that out of concern for his health and the medications he was taking, he had voluntarily turned in his driver's license about a month before the incident for which he is charged.

So how and why did he get back behind the steering wheel?

"I think Mr. Harris was in a manic state and was prescribed some medication that did not sit very well with him," LoTempio replied.

Flynn, meanwhile, admits his pursuit of a murder charge is a risky venture and anticipates the charge could be whittled down to a manslaughter count. But following the arraignment he told reporters Harris' case is an example of what concerns him about the prospect of legal marijuana in New York State.

"If it becomes legal, you're going to have more people who are going to be driving under the influence of marijuana," he said. "This is the kind of accident that can take place while you are under the influence of marijuana. This is an extreme example, obviously, and this is why I'm sending a message and am charging this man with murder."

Bail was set at $50,000.