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Lester held for grand jury action in hit-and-run death of Canton man

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CANTON — More than 50 friends, co-workers and family members of Richard F. Morrow — many of them wearing black armbands — watched silently Friday as Canton Town Justice Christopher J. Curley determined there was enough evidence to hold Daniel W. Lester, the driver accused of hitting and killing Mr. Morrow, for a grand jury to consider charges against him.

“I wanted to let the court know we’re watching,” said Mr. Morrow’s ex-wife, Diane C. Colbert, who put out a call for those who knew Mr. Morrow to attend the preliminary hearing. “That’s my message: We’re watching.”

Mr. Morrow, 69, Ellis Road, Canton, died when he was struck by a car at 10:40 p.m. Monday on County Route 27 in Canton. Mr. Lester, 28, of 8 Heuvelton St., Rensselaer Falls, was driving a Toyota Corolla when he allegedly struck Mr. Morrow and fled, according to state police.

Troopers charged Mr. Lester with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault, leaving the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident, driving while ability impaired by drugs, driving while intoxicated with prior convictions and aggravated unlicensed operation, all felonies, in addition to various vehicle and traffic violations.

At the hearing, prosecutors presented evidence only on the DWAI by drugs charge. Judge Curley ruled that it was enough to hold Mr. Lester for the grand jury.

Troopers testified that Mr. Lester was apprehended after he sped away from a patrol vehicle on Miner Street Road, crashed into a snowbank and tried to run away.

On the way to the station, Mr. Lester asked Trooper Taylor Ellis what he had done. When Trooper Ellis told Mr. Lester that he had hit a snowbank, the trooper testified that Mr. Lester said: ‘Not then. I hit something earlier.’”

Mr. Lester also told police that he had not slept in several days and had last eaten much earlier in the day.

A breathalyzer test showed his blood alcohol content was zero, but a drug recognition expert determined that Mr. Lester was under the influence of narcotics, anti-depressants and marijuana.

Troopers testified Mr. Lester told them he took prescription pain medications for health conditions.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua A. HaberkornHalm asked Judge Curley to raise Mr. Lester’s bail to $200,000, but the judge kept it at $7,500. Mr. Lester was returned to the St. Lawrence County Jail.

Mr. HaberkornHalm said Mr. Lester faces serious charges and could flee, especially given his history of convictions for DWAI as a misdemeanor, reckless driving and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Released, Mr. Lester could kill someone on the roads, Mr. HaberkornHalm said.

“Unfortunately, that’s a tragedy that has already happened,” Mr. HaberkornHalm said. “This defendant is a danger.”

Bail is not meant to punish, but to ensure that a defendant comes to court, Judge Curley said.

Given that Mr. Lester is a lifetime resident of the community, has family here and two children, and has not had the resources to make the bail already set, Judge Curley kept it at $7,500.

Ms. Colbert said she was concerned that the amount of Mr. Lester’s bail showed that the court did not view the allegations against him seriously, so she had asked Mr. Morrow’s co-workers and friends to demonstrate that they want justice. Black armbands were handed out as a sign of mourning.

Mr. Morrow was well-known in the community as a north country native, St. Lawrence University graduate, former mathematics teacher at Norwood-Norfolk Central School, activist, Unitarian Universalist Church member, night auditor at Best Western University Inn, and owner of the Meadows Restaurant.

He was an avid bicyclist who rode year-round. In an interview he gave The Times in 2010 about the advantages of biking, Mr. Morrow said he used headlights, taillights and studded tires.

“About the only thing that could happen is that somebody would run into you,” Mr. Morrow was quoted in the story. “You would hope they have the decency to stop.”

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