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Suspect in chase that ended in fatal crash could face manslaughter charges

By JOLEEN FERRIS

SCHUYLER, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Herkimer Police Chief says the officer engaged in Thursday's high-speed chase that ended with the death of a Schuyler woman was backing off from the chase when the crash occurred.

Speeds reached in excess of 80 mph and Officer Jody Wheet had decided it was time to back away from the chase and, in fact, was far enough behind the suspect vehicle that he was not involved in the crash.

Additional police officers had been alerted and were preparing to use 'stop sticks' to puncture the suspect vehicle's tires and stop the chase. That's when the suspect allegedly struck a car carrying two sisters from Schuyler, ultimately killing the driver.

Gail Pietruska, 65, was airlifted Thursday from Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica to University Hospital in Syracuse. She died late Thursday afternoon. Her sister, Louise Medallis, 54, is in fair condition at Saint Elizabeth Medical Center, as is Rebecca Mento, whom police say Conklin pushed from his car as the high-speed chase began.

Suspect Daniel Conklin is recovering under police guard at University Hospital. He has two broken legs, and a long road ahead through the court system.

"My understanding is a parole warrant has been issued to hold him in custody. No charges have been levied at this point in time relative to yesterday's accident and at this point in time, the investigation will continue and we'll probably present this to the next Herkimer County Grand Jury," says Herkimer County District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter.

Carpenter says the assault-related charges Conklin would have likely faced when the case goes to a grand jury for possible indictment are now elevated to homicide-level charges. Before, the most he would have faced would have been a speeding ticket, possible misdemeanor for driving without a license and the possibility of parole violation.

Now, Carpenter plans to present a second-degree manslaughter charge to the grand jury for possible indictment. That brings a possible prison sentence of 5-15 years in prison. That maximum sentence could be elevated to life in prison if Conklin is convicted and determined to be a persistent felony offender.

Daniel Conklin has served three prison sentences between 2008 and now; two for offenses committed in Monroe County, one for an offense in Herkimer County. Those crimes include criminal possession of stolen property, burglary, and grand larceny-all felonies. He was paroled on the stolen property charge about a month ago.

An autopsy on victim Gail Pietruska was completed late Friday afternoon. A medical examiner declared the manner of death "accidental; cause, undetermined, pending further investigation." Herkimer County District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter says that does not harm the criminal investigation or prosecution of the case.

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