People v Palmieri
Decided on July 14, 2008
Just Ct of Town of Geneva, Ontario County
The People of the State of New York,
Aaron C. Palmieri, Defendant.
Mark A. Venuti, J.
The defendant, Aaron C. Palmieri, was charged on March 31, 2008 with a violation of Vehicle & Traffic Law section 1143, which provides that "[t]he driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed." A bench trial was held on July 14, 2008. The People's case was presented by Ontario County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Fagner, who responded to the scene but did not witness the events. Mr. Palmieri's car collided with a car driven by Alice Smith, and he was the only one ticketed. Alice Smith and another witness to the accident, Kathy Millspaw, testified for the People. Mr. Palmieri testified on his own behalf.
County Road 4 is a two lane road, one lane going east and one lane going west, except, near
the intersection of County Road 6, a left turn lane gradually opens so that vehicles can make a
left turn from County Road 4 onto County Road 6 using a left-turn-arrow signal at the
intersection, and at that point there are two eastbound lanes on County Road 4, but still one west
bound lane. The accident occurred when Mr. Palmieri pulled out of the gas station and mini-mart
at the corner of County Roads 4 and 6, through a break in the line of cars waiting in the east
bound lane for the light to change, turning left to go west on County Road 4; at the same time,
Ms. Smith, who was traveling east on County Road 4 and wanted to make a left turn at County
Road 6, swung around one or two of the cars stopped ahead of her, these cars west of the space
Mr. Palmieri was driving through, in an attempt to get into the left turn lane which was nearer the
intersection than she. Neither driver saw the other, and the cars collided.
Because Ms. Smith was in the road and Mr. Palmieri was entering the road, Deputy Fagner reasoned that Ms. Smith had the right of way and issued a ticket to Mr. Palmieri, as a plain reading of the statute seems to indicate. However, all of the witnesses agreed Ms. Smith had crossed the double solid yellow line separating the east and west bound lanes, and had swung into the west bound lane, to get around the east bound car or cars ahead of her, using the west bound lane to get to the left turn lane, instead of waiting in the east bound lane until she reached the point where she could have easily merged into the left turn lane.
How far Ms. Smith went into the west bound lane was not agreed upon by the witnesses, but the court finds she was entirely or nearly entirely in the west bound lane at the point of the collision because the road has only two lanes at that point the extra left turn lane only just beginning as a narrow triangle - and other cars were in the east bound lane, leaving her only, or just about only, the west bound lane, the lane Mr. Palmieri was turning into. Impatience on the [*2]part of Mr. Palmieri and Ms. Smith was the cause of the accident. Mr. Palmieri pulled out through a gap in the traffic instead of waiting for all of the east bound traffic to pass, and Ms. Smith, trying to make the tempting green arrow up ahead before her car actually reached the left turn lane, swung into the oncoming lane to get there faster.
The question for the court is whether Ms. Smith is entitled to the right of way in the wrong lane, i.e., is section 1143 applied even if the driver in the roadway is going the wrong way in the roadway and is not entitled to be where he or she is at the time the other vehicle enters the roadway. Put another way, can Mr. Palmieri be held to have violated section 1143 beyond a reasonable doubt for failing to yield to a car going east in the west bound lane he was attempting to enter. The court could find no case law on point, and concludes it would be untenable to apply section 1143's normal reading to the facts of this case. The court holds that a driver does not violate section 1143 for failing to yield to a vehicle improperly in the lane being entered, and the charge against Mr. Palmieri is dismissed.
July 14, 2008__________________________________
Mark A. Venuti, Justice