New Leb teen charged with vehicular homicide

GREENPORT—A Chatham man is dead and a teenager faces felony charges in connection with the automobile crash that killed him.
The teen’s mother is also charged with allowing her son to drink alcohol with her at their home before the accident.
Lars C. Haas, 17, of New Lebanon was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, a class B felony; aggravated vehicular assault, a class C felony; driving while intoxicated; operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content greater than .08%; driving while ability impaired by drugs; driving while ability impaired by drugs and alcohol; reckless driving; passing in a no passing zone and passing a red traffic light when he turned himself in at the Sheriff’s Office with his attorney Monday, November 30 at 9 a.m.
At the same time, Lars’ mother, Susan Haas, 51, also of New Lebanon, was charged with three counts of unlawfully dealing with a child, a class A misdemeanor, for allowing three teenagers, including her son and one of his passengers, to drink alcoholic beverages in her presence at her house on Pooles Hill Road, the evening of September 25.  
Lars was driving a 2008 Pontiac Vibe, northbound on Route 22, when he failed to stop for a red traffic light at the Route 295 intersection in Canaan, September 25 at 8:43 p.m.
During a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office the afternoon of November 30, Sheriff David Harrison Jr. said that based on the investigation there are indications that Lars sped up as he approached the intersection and even passed several vehicles before ignoring a red light and crashing into the side of a 2001 GMC pickup truck driven by Robert Meehan, 72, of Chatham, who was headed west on Route 295 and had the green light.
Not wearing a seatbelt, Mr. Meehan was thrown from his truck by the accident impact.
Hospitalized at the Albany Medical Center (AMC) since the accident with a broken sternum, two broken vertebrae, broken ribs, a dislocated hip and severe head trauma, Mr. Meehan died as a result of his injuries November 14.
He was a retired farmer and antique equipment enthusiast, who “could work on anything and make it run,” according to Kirk Kneller, a member of the Chatham Lions Club, which sponsored a tractor pull in October to benefit Mr. Meehan’s family. Mr. Kneller spoke to The Columbia Paper in an October 29 story about the tractor pull, noting, Mr. Meehan was “a soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes kind of guy…”
Mr. Meehan was on his way home from repairing his mother-in-law’s furnace the night of the accident.  
Lars and his two passengers, Michael Hotaling, 16, of East Nassau and Alesha O’Dell, 17, of Old Chatham were extricated from the vehicle by Canaan, New Lebanon and East Chatham firefighters.
Lars and Michael in the front seat, were wearing seatbelts; Alesha, in the back seat, was not.
The Lebanon Valley Protective Association and Chatham Rescue Squad took Lars, Michael and Alesha to the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield for treatment of their injuries. Alesha was later airlifted to AMC for treatment of serious internal injuries.
All three have since been released from the hospital, the sheriff said at the press conference.
The car Lars was driving is owned by his mother, who was not in it when it crashed. Deputies found several cans of beer in the Haas vehicle following the accident.    
A State Police Laboratory blood test indicated that Lars had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least .08%. The test was also positive for marijuana.
At the press conference, the sheriff would not give Lars’ specific BAC or say where he may have gotten the marijuana.   
The sheriff’s investigation revealed that within two hours prior to the accident, Lars and one passenger drank alcohol at the Haas residence with Ms. Haas and other individuals, at least two of whom were underage.      
Both Lars and his mother were arraigned before Canaan Justice Delena Schaefer, the morning of November 30.
They were represented by Attorney Andy Howard. Both pleaded not guilty to their respective charges.
Mr. Howard requested that bail be waived, saying neither Ms. Haas nor her son, who have lived in the New Lebanon area for five years, were a flight risk. But only Ms. Haas, a part-time registered nurse studying for her master’s degree, was released on her own recognizance. She is to return to New Lebanon Court December 3.
Lars, who may have been a student at the New Lebanon High School in the past, but is no longer, according to New Lebanon School District Superintendent Karen McGraw, was sent to the Columbia County Jail in lieu of $25,000 cash bail and $50,000 bail bond to return to Canaan Court December 3.
It came out at the arraignment that Lars has incurred traffic violations since the accident. At the press conference, Sheriff Harrison would not comment on Lars’ past run-ins with the law, if any, due to his youthful-offender status.
Ms. Haas, who was standing just outside the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office during the press conference told The Columbia Paper that she hoped to bail her son out of jail before the day was out.   
According to Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Cozzolino, Lars could face a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in state prison if convicted of the class C felony.
The arrests were made by Senior Investigator Kevin Skype, Investigator Patrick Logue and Resident Deputy Todd Hyson.
The investigation is continuing by Sheriff’s investigators and the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office.
“Everything about this case is a tragedy,” the sheriff said at the press conference. “Mr. Meehan lost his life and a young man faces a long legal process and could face prison time.”
To contact Diane Valden email
David Lee contributed to this report.

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