Acton teenager acquitted in fatal accident trial

Gabriel Leiner

A six-member jury acquitted an Acton teenager of motor vehicle homicide Monday after agreeing she was not criminally negligent when she struck and killed a Wayland middle school student the night before Thanksgiving 2006.

Wayland Police filed the charge after reporting that Sari Lelchook, 18, was behind the wheel of a 2001 Toyota Corolla that struck and killed Wayland Middle School student John Martin as he was crossing Old Connecticut Path on the night of Nov. 22, 2006.

The verdict came after a three-day trial in Framingham District Court and an hour of deliberations.

Lelchook’s Cambridge attorney Kevin Mahoney told jurors the accident could not have been avoided by a reasonably prudent person.

Mahoney said the accident was caused by a delayed response from Lelchook because she momentarily looked down at her speedometer to make sure she was traveling below the 35 mph speed limit on Old Connecticut Path.

“The prosecutor is asking you brand (Lelchook) a criminal for looking down at her speedometer,” Mahoney told jurors in his closing statement.

Mahoney said Lelchook was “distressed but courageous” throughout her trial, during which state Trooper William Pultar described his investigation of the accident based on several assumptions of speed, distances and reaction times.

“She sat here the whole time, and it couldn’t have been easy with (Pultar) passing all the blame on her,” said Mahoney.

The accuracy of Pultar's data was also questioned by Mahoney using a recording in which Lelchook told police hours after the accident that she was traveling 35 to 40 mph.

Given higher speed and a longer reaction time due to dark conditions of the nighttime accident, Mahoney described the accident as “unavoidable by anyone.”

“The question is whether she failed to uphold the standard of the reasonably prudent person,” said Mahoney. “It’s not a well-defined standard, but it has to be a right-in-your-face kind of guilty.”

Mahoney added that because the crosswalk was dimly lit on a quiet night before Thanksgiving and Martin was wearing black, Lelchook's reaction time may have been worse than normal.

During the trial's second day, jurors also learned from Martin’s friend and Wayland High School freshman Collin Wallace that Martin may have smoked marijuana before the accident.

Some of Martin's family members began crying after hearing the verdict.

“Justice was not served,” said Tara Martin, who said she felt Lelchook was responsible for her younger brother’s death.  “(Lelchook) was smiling through the whole trial.”

Tara and Martin’s mother, Denise Martin, both said they wanted a guilty verdict.

“(Lelchook) had the ability to perceive Martin and stop in time, but for (Lelchook’s) negligence John Martin would not have died,” said prosecutor Rich Mucci. “She simply wasn’t paying attention.”

Mahoney said he felt sorry for the Martin family, though he said Denise Martin’s crying throughout the trial “was brutal but has nothing to do with a court decision.”

“Sympathy for either family cannot be used in reaching a decision,” District Court Judge Robert Greco told jurors before they deliberated. “There is a place for sympathy, but it’s not in the courtroom.”

MetroWest Daily News staff writer Gabriel Leiner can be reached at 508-626-4436 or