Man charged with homicide by vehicle in 7-year-old New Castle boy's death

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NEW CASTLE, Pa. - According to police, a New Castle man was under the influence of drugs when he drove a truck into the front yard of a Lawrence County home on Sunday and killed a 7-year-old-boy.

Police charged Virgil Coonfare, 66, with homicide by vehicle while under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence and driving under the influence.

He is accused of killing Octavius Stone, 7, and severely injuring Ozzy Velez, 9, as they played in a front yard on Winslow Avenue, according to a criminal complaint filed against Coonfare.

Autopsy results show Stone died of blunt force trauma to the chest, county Deputy Coroner Richard Johnson said. Velez was flown to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville, police said. He is expected to be released Monday afternoon.

A state police trooper trained in drug recognition determined Coonfare was under the influence of a depressant and a narcotic painkiller, the complaint said.

Police believe Coonfare was driving northwest on Stanton Avenue when he tried to turn west onto Winslow about 2:15 p.m. He drove onto the sidewalk on Winslow, and then up an embankment and through the front yards of two homes, police said.

He hit the children around the front steps of a home on Winslow Avenue, police said.

“(Octavius) raised himself up and looked and went back down. So I went down to him and he fluttered his eyes, and I kept tapping him on his back. I asked him if he was OK and he wouldn’t respond,” Ozzy’s grandmother, Barbara Brown, said.

Brown said the two boys were playing in front of her New Castle home when they were hit.

“(Ozzy) told me the truck was coming at them and he tried to push Octavius out of the way,” Brown said.

When officers arrived, Coonfare was only wearing one shoe and couldn’t walk straight, the complaint said. He failed field sobriety tests before police took him to Jameson Hospital for further testing.

Bonny Rhodes told Channel 11’s Dave Bondy that she witnessed the accident and immediately ran to help.

“I kept saying, ‘Jesus is with you,’” Rhodes said. “I’m holding up by the grace of God, but inside I’m shaken and sad.”

A judge arraigned Coonfare on the charges overnight and ordered him held without bond in the Lawrence County Prison.

“I’m terribly sorry. I’ve got grandchildren at home,” Coonfare said as he was taken into custody.

He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Dec. 5.

 

Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.