Eldridge pleads not guilty

Gwen Chamberlain

Steven A. Eldridge, the man accused of causing the fatal accident on Pre-Emption Road that resulted in the deaths of six members of a Steuben County Amish community, has pled not guilty.

In a brief appearance in Yates County court Friday morning, Eldridge, in a very quiet, sometimes broken voice, answered questions posed by Judge W. Patrick Falvey and entered his two word plea.

Although he said he understood the charges against him, he said, "A little bit," when Falvey asked routine questions about understanding and reading the English language. When asked about his education, he said, "I was in special education."

His attorney, Public Defender Ed Brockman, told the judge, "Based on his limits in reading, I've read the entire indictment to him."

District Attorney Jason Cook filed special information detailing previous felony convictions and told the judge "The people are ready for trial."

Brockman served notice of the intent to offer psychiatric evidence during the trial.

Falvey continued Eldridge's bail, set previously at $125,000 cash and $250,000 bond, and returned him to the Yates County jail to await his trial. No date was set for the next appearance, and the case was put on the 45-day motion calendar.

Eldridge was indicted by a grand jury on 18 counts, the most serious being aggravated vehicular homicide, a class B felony.

Eldridge was the driver of a car that struck a 14-passenger van in Benton on July 19, sending the van into the path of a large farm tractor equipped with spray apparatus. The van became entrapped under the tractor and embedded in the spray apparatus.

Five people died that day, and a sixth — the wife of one of the other victims — died a week later. They were all passengers in the van. Seven other people who were in the van were injured and treated at either Geneva General Hospital or Strong Memorial Hospital.

Timothy Labarr, of Dresden, the driver of the tractor, was treated at Geneva General Hospital. One passenger in the van was treated at the scene only. Eldridge was the only person who was not injured.