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Driver faces misdemeanor charge in Antwerp crash that killed six people

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The lone survivor of the fiery Antwerp accident that took six lives almost a year ago still suffers from a series of lingering injuries.

But Lewis Lottie Jr. can only think about the families of the other victims after hearing that the driver of the tractor-trailer involved in the July 19, 2012, crash will not face any felony charges in connection with the crash on Route 11 in the town of Antwerp.

On Tuesday night, James A. Mills Jr., 45, Myerstown, Pa., was charged with the unclassified misdemeanor of reckless driving. He also was cited with traffic infractions of following too closely, failure to reduce speed for a hazard and failure to obey a flag person.

A Jefferson County grand jury did not return a felony charge against Mr. Mills, District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert said Wednesday. Instead, a prosecutor’s information — which determines that there was not evidence to support felony charges against him but brought the misdemeanor charge and traffic violations — was unsealed at his arraignment Tuesday night in Antwerp Town Court.

Mr. Lottie, a father of four, said he is disappointed but not surprised with the grand jury’s decision.

“It’s the justice system,” he said. “It is what it is.”

He said he feels bad for those who lost family members.

“It’s just sad,” he said

Killed were Laurie A. Dana, 42, North Lawrence; her daughters, Caitlyn O., 14, and Lauryn E., 11; their grandmother, Janet P. Dana, 69; Shannon M. Planty, 14, a friend of Caitlyn’s, and the driver of another car, Maryann D. Gregory, 59, Dickinson Center.

Mr. Mills pleaded not guilty Tuesday night. The matter was adjourned until Sept. 26 for further proceedings. Mr. Mills is being represented by Gouverneur attorney Gary W. Miles, who could not be reached for comment.

Mrs. Intschert said she understands why Mr. Lottie or anyone associated with the accident would feel that way, but they need to know it’s much more difficult to prove criminally negligent vehicular homicide than it is for a civil lawsuit.

“I cannot possibly put myself in his shoes,” she said. “It was an absolutely tragic collision. However, I presented a full case to the grand jury.”

The skidding tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Mills crashed into the rear of a car, setting off a chain reaction that involved a state Department of Transportation pickup, a 2004 Toyota RAV4 and two other trucks at the front of the line.

The crash occurred shortly after 9 that Thursday morning at a highway repaving project just south of Fox Ranch Road. A line of southbound vehicles was stopped at the site, where Barrett Paving of Watertown, under contract with DOT, was doing the work.

Mr. Lottie, who was driving the DOT pickup truck, suffered critical injuries and continues to recover. He was on his way to a DOT meeting in Watertown when the accident happened.

He escaped as the pickup burst into flames from a gas tank explosion. Family members have credited DOT personnel and Barrett Paving employees for pulling him out of the vehicle.

The district attorney said her office has worked hard on the investigation and case.

“This is a very involved situation, clearly, so the investigation has been ongoing,” Mrs. Intschert said. “Therefore, it took a considerable amount of time.”

State police attributed Mr. Mills’s driver inattention as a cause of the tragedy. Because of the level of severity of the accident, a panel of state police accident reconstruction experts from around the state met last year in Albany to review the crash, but its findings have not been made public.

Mrs. Intschert said Wednesday that she did not know the status of Mr. Mills’s truck driver’s license, but said it could be revoked. She said she had not seen the state report.

Mr. Lottie said he suffers from such major injuries as no feeling in his lower back and left foot, needs a total hip replacement, must undergo more pelvis surgery and has burns associated with the fiery crash.

“I will never be the same,” he said.

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