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Teen-Age Girl Dies in Crash; Brother Accused of Murdering the Driver

August 02, 1987|GEORGE ESPER | Associated Press

HONESDALE, Pa. — Glenn Evans had drunk five, maybe six bottles of beer when he slipped behind the wheel of his 1971 Plymouth Duster and set off with three teen-age girls for a drive one hot August night last year.

With the radio blaring, resting a beer between his legs and leaning over occasionally to kiss Kristen Umstadter, seated in the bucket seat beside him, Evans sped past another car. As he tried to steer his car back into the right lane, he lost control. As the Duster spun across the center line, the passenger side hit the left front of an oncoming car with such force that Kristen's aorta ruptured.

Kristen Umstadter, senior class president and homecoming queen, Sunday school teacher and camp counselor, a founder of her school's chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving and three weeks short of entering Temple University to study landscaping and horticulture, bled to death at age 17.

One of the other girls was barely injured. The second girl and Evans, who had turned 20 a day before the Aug. 15 accident, survived with broken legs.

Bizarre Turn

On Jan. 21, Evans was found guilty of seven motor vehicle violations, including homicide by vehicle, but acquitted of drunk driving. The judge said the evidence was sketchy; Evans, although admitting drinking the beers, testified that Kristen Umstadter had caused the crash by grabbing the wheel.

But Evans was never sentenced. A week after his conviction, his body was found, with four bullets in the head, in the apartment he shared with one of his five brothers. The district attorney charged Kristen Umstadter's brother, Travis, with first-degree murder. State police found the murder weapon, a .22-caliber revolver, in Travis' car.

Now Travis Umstadter, a 20-year-old carpenter and former classmate of Evans, faces possible life in prison. With his trial scheduled to start Monday, the ache of the tragedy and the bitterness between the families is felt again in this town of 5,000 nestled in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

"I died with her," said Larraine Umstadter, the mother of Kristen and Travis. "She was my future. The grieving is as bad now as it was the day she died. I think about her dying on the road. Why did it happen to her?"

Three weeks before Kristen's death, the Umstadters had sold their general store because the long hours were so demanding. "We wanted to spend more time together," Mrs. Umstadter said wistfully.

"It should have been me instead of him," said a tearful Eva Furk, Glenn Evans' mother and a quadriplegic herself from a car crash in January, 1986. "I wish I could have him back, and I'd gladly give up my life for him."

She sits in a wheelchair, watching television, nodding toward an empty easy chair in the living room of her rural home in Cochecton, N.Y., just over the border from Pennsylvania, where she moved with her second husband two years ago.

"I just miss him so, especially every Sunday. . . . I see him sitting in that chair. He always wanted something to eat, always looking in the refrigerator, 'Mom, what's good to eat?' My biggest frustration is that I'm sitting in this wheelchair and I can't do nothing about it. I always wish I was dead."

Like high school Principal Dan O'Neill and other townspeople, Mrs. Umstadter finds it hard to believe that her daughter had been drinking, despite the testimony of the other girls that each of the three had drunk two beers while riding around town in Kristen's car.

Then, at Kristen Umstadter's suggestion, they drove to Evans' apartment, "because she liked him," according to testimony. They stayed about an hour, then got into Evans' Duster with more beer.

Abstained From Drinking

Kristen Umstadter helped organize Students Against Drunk Driving at Honesdale High. After her junior and senior proms, she and friends skipped the parties where alcohol was served and returned to the Umstadter home for breakfast.

"She was against that very thing," said Mrs. Umstadter, who works as a paralegal. "I have a lot of questions. I cannot understand how she could be in a position to be in a car under those circumstances against her better judgment."

Mrs. Umstadter said Kristen, Travis and their older brother, David, 23, were very close. On the day Kristen died, Travis had taken her lunch at the appliance store where she was working.

Travis Umstadter has been free on bail since his arrest. He refused to talk about the case with a reporter.

Dist. Atty. Raymond L. Hamill said he would seek conviction on the first-degree murder charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence with no parole.

Umstadter also faces charges of third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, which carry penalties ranging from five to 20 years in prison.

Defense attorney Lee Krause intends to use a defense of mental infirmity or diminished capacity.

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