QUEENSBURY -- A logger from Lake Luzerne has been indicted on three criminal charges in connection with the March 15 death of a snowmobiler who was hit by a falling tree.
Michael Vernum, 36, of Wall Street, was charged with felony counts of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault and the misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment.
The charges do not accuse him of intentionally causing another person's death; they accuse him of acting with criminal negligence in causing a death.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday morning during an arraignment before Warren County Judge John Hall. He was then sent to Warren County Jail for lack of bail.
Vernum was charged in connection with the death of Gary T. Clark, 50, of Fort Ann. Clark was snowmobiling on Viele Pond Road, which is a snowmobile trail in the winter, when a tree that Vernum cut in adjacent woods fell and hit Clark, police said.
Clark was on the trail, and representatives of the snowmobile club had twice warned Vernum in the weeks before of the possible danger his logging practices presented to snowmobilers, police and the president of the South Warren Snowmobile Club have said.
Vernum was not charged until a grand jury heard testimony in the case Friday. A sealed indictment was opened in court Wednesday.
In a three-page written statement filed in court, Vernum wrote that he was cutting trees to sell wood for firewood, and that he had logged in that area before. He had permission to log the property from landowner Tom Janesky, Vernum told Warren County sheriff's Investigator Doug David.
He told police he had cut four trees, and a co-worker had cut two that morning. He said he was dropping another one when he saw a co-worker he referred to as Dan yelling, "Yo, yo, yo," and looking down the trail waving his arms.
Vernum said the tree hit the snowmobiler on the head, knocking him unconscious.
"It all happened so fast," Vernum is quoted as saying.
Vernum's lawyer, Joseph Brennan, said Vernum maintains he is not guilty.
"Unfortunately, it was a tragic accident," Brennan said.
Clark's family pushed for prosecution. His father, Jerry Clark, said he was glad to hear Wednesday that Vernum had been charged.
"We're still suffering because of what he did," he said.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said it was too early in the case to say what sentence her office will seek if Vernum is convicted.
The charges are punishable by up to 7 years in state prison. The second-degree assault count is the weightiest charge he faces, weightier, in fact, than criminally negligent homicide.