Tonawanda News

November 21, 2013

Guilty plea in double fatal crash

By Rick Pfeiffer rick.pfeiffer@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — A Niagara County man with an apparently lengthy list of medical problems pleaded guilty to two counts of criminally negligent homicide for an accident that left two people dead.

Frederick Lederhouse, 61, of Ransomville, entered his plea during a proceeding before State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. on Wednesday. His case had been pending before a Niagara County grand jury, but Lederhouse struck a deal with prosecutors before being indicted.

Assistant District Attorney Claudette Caldwell told Kloch that Lederhouse was driving his pick-up on Wilson Burt Road on March 27 when he struck the rear of a car driven by Cathy World, 58, of Wilson.

“The black box in the truck recorded that he was driving at 86 miles an hour when he struck (World’s) car,” Caldwell said. “A reconstruction (of the accident) placed the speed at 78 miles an hour.”

Caldwell said the force of the crash drove World’s car off the road and into a ditch with Lederhouse’s truck behind her.

“(Lederhouse) went off the road, then corrected his vehicle, came out of the ditch, crossed the road and struck (a second car) head on.”

That vehicle was driven by Ronald Zauner, 69, of Wilson. Niagara County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash found both Zauner and World unconscious and in their vehicles. Zauner was pronounced dead at the scene.

World was taken to Eastern Niagara Hospital-Newfane, where she was later pronounced dead. Lederhouse was also taken to the Newfane hospital, where he was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Accident investigators said Lederhouse had a high level of Xanex in his blood at the time of the crash. Caldwell said prosecutors believed the high level of the anti-anxiety drug showed Lederhouse was not fit to drive, leading to the criminal charges in the case.

Lederhouse’s defense attorney, Joel Daniels, said his client has been taking Xanex, and at least 10 other prescription medications, for 20 years. He said Lederhouse suffers from “multiple medical issues” including Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and water on his brain.

“We believe he had a mini-stroke (at the time of the crash,” Daniels said. “He has no recollection of the events. It was a terrible tragedy.”

Kloch told Lederhouse his pleas could net him a prison sentence of up to four years on each count. 

“I don’t know what he’s going to do in regard to sentence,” Daniels said.

The judge said he would review a pre-sentence report, along with medical evidence submitted by Daniels and any comments from the victims’ families, before deciding.

“If I find that I have to incarcerate you, I will allow you to withdraw your plea and proceed to trial,” Kloch told Lederhouse.

Caldwell indicated in court, that prosecutors were prepared to recommend a sentence of probation, based on the circumstances and evidence in the case. The prosecutor said Zauner’s family approved of a probation sentence, but World’s family wants a jail term.

“We have met with the families to discuss the plea and probation recommendations,” she said.

Lederhouse is currently free on his own recognizance. Daniels said his client’s driver’s license has been suspended and he is not driving.

“He has no intention of ever driving again,” Daniels said.