Friday hearing will determine if evidence is suppressed in Fowler jogger-fatality accident

By Ed Runyan


Russell Lauer III, who is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, failing to stop after an accident, drunken driving and a lane violation in the death of a jogger, will argue Friday that blood-alcohol testing and his statements to investigators should be suppressed from evidence.

Lauer, 43, of state Route 5 in Cortland, is accused of hitting and killing Brittany Szwedko, 27, of Cortland, as Szwedko walked or jogged along Ridge Road in Fowler Township on Feb. 27.

Investigators said a blood test of Lauer contained alcohol and oxycodone just after the accident.

Through his attorney, Brendan Keating, Lauer argued in a September brief that he did not voluntarily give consent to have his blood drawn after the accident.

Lauer did give consent for the blood draw to Trooper L.S. Woodward from the Ohio State Highway Patrol in the hours after the accident while being treated in St. Joseph Warren Hospital, but he was experiencing side effects from being assaulted, the filing says.

As a result, his consent to the blood draw and his statements about the crash to the trooper were “not made voluntarily because the statements were not the product of Lauer’s free and rational choice.”

A man in a car behind Lauer the day of the accident followed Lauer’s car after the crash and confronted Lauer at an intersection, ordering Lauer to turn off his car and give the man the keys, but Lauer wasn’t cooperative.

The man punched Lauer four times in the face before he was able to stop Lauer from trying to leave, the patrol said. Lauer’s face was bloody when police arrived, and he was taken to the hospital for treatment. The filing says the punches broke Lauer’s nose.

Lauer’s hospital discharge summary says he was diagnosed with “anxiety state,” “closed fracture of nasal bones,” “lumbrosacral strain,” “cervical strain,” and a “minor head injury,” the filing says.

“The defense argues that given Lauer’s physical and psychological condition at the time of the questioning, his statements did not derive from a rational intellect,” the filing says.

“While being questioned, Lauer was lying in a hospital bed in the emergency room, in a state of anxiety, having just had his nose broken and was unable to physically escape the questioning of Trooper Woodward, therefore, he was under a ‘custodian interrogation.’” the filing says.

A person subject to a custodial interrogation is “constitutionally entitled to be advised of his right to remain silent,” the filing says. All statements Lauer made before being read his rights should be excluded from evidence, the filing says.

The trooper read Lauer his rights at the hospital, but it’s “unclear from the [police] report when Lauer was made aware of his rights,” the filing says.

Lauer made incriminating statements during the interview, the filing says.

The patrol said Lauer admitted drinking one alcoholic beverage that day and using several prescription medications.

Lauer was slurring his speech and falling asleep while being interviewed by investigators, the patrol said. Witnesses said Lauer’s car was “swerving and leaving the roadway” before it struck Szwedko.

A highway patrol drawing shows Szwedko several feet off the road at the time she was hit.

Lauer is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 6 before Judge Peter Kontos.

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.