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.

(19) comments

likeaninja2000

If I remember the story correctly, didn't the logger have someone on the trail who tried to stop the snowmobile? If this is the case it is just an unfortunate accident. Also how could they prove he didn't do everything in his power to make the tree fall away from the trail? You can never tell what a tree is gonna do once you separate it from the earth.

tony

[quote]likeaninja2000 said: "If I remember the story correctly, didn't the logger have someone on the trail who tried to stop the snowmobile?"[/quote]

This is what the logger said. I know that trail. It's not wide enough for a snowmobile to get by if someone was standing in the middle of the trail. And an experienced logger knows how to make a tree fall in whatever direction they want. I know, have done it many times, and I'm not a logger.

NY Girl

likeaninja2000, the logger should not have been there in the first place.

summit

Go have someone stand on the Northway, while you cut a tree down that is going to fall across it. See how well that works for you. A marked snowmobile trail is a highway for snowmobiles, not a place to be cutting trees down.

[quote]likeaninja2000 said: "If I remember the story correctly, didn't the logger have someone on the trail who tried to stop the snowmobile? If this is the case it is just an unfortunate accident. Also how could they prove he didn't do everything in his power to make the tree fall away from the trail? You can never tell what a tree is gonna do once you separate it from the earth."[/quote]

OldGuy
OldGuy

LikeAnInja2000 - I think a lot of people thought the same as you (and I), and that must be why the authorities put all those questions before a grand jury first to see if he could be charged. I also see that The Post Star is taking the case seriously enough to put veteran reporter Don Lehman on it too. So, I would expect all our questions will be answered soon in the unfolding story.

sparkler1964

He didn't do everything possible.That is why it took so long to charge him.Great job by Kate Hogan and all involved in the investigation.Hopefully justice will be served.

likeaninja2000

Summit: While I understand your point, I believe calling the snowmobile trail a highway is a little extreme. (Not being a snowmobiler myself) What is the posted speed limit on the trail?

NYGirl: I was under the impression he was cutting trees on property with permission of the land owner.

Tony: While I have also cut down trees and put them exactly where I wanted them, I also know of times when something doesn't go right. Nothing is ever 100 percent.

Again how can they prove he did everything possible? And where do the rights of a land owner to have trees cut on his property meet the permission the land owner gave the snowmobile trail riders?

Cricket
Cricket

While it is true that on some occasions a tree will do something to surprise the one cutting it, 9 times out of 10 that tree will fall where the logger wants it to, likeaninka2000. It is an art-form to fell a tree and experienced loggers know how to do this.

sasquatch

Loggers will try to deny any implications of impropriety or responsibility, especially back in the shady side of the county. Or everywhere. In the meantime, a tragic combination of events. When you drop a tree, it behooves you to "block off" the area around the tree, against intruders. 360 degrees.

Uncle Fester
Uncle Fester

Here's what I see...

Some innocent guy, out minding his own business, enjoying himself in the fresh mountain snow is killed because some hick feels he has the right to cut down trees within striking distance of an active snowmobile path!

Throw the book at him! He was warned before he did this!

MaketheSense

[quote]likeaninja2000 said: " You can never tell what a tree is gonna do once you separate it from the earth."[/quote]

Truth. Stored stress makes them unpredictable.

Somebody operating a chainsaw often can not hear anything around him, so there is shared responsibility for need of awareness.

summit

NY state limit is 55 mph. Unless its marked slower for some reason. I am not sure of the exact place that this happened, so I can't say if it was marked a different speed or not.

There is commecial Logging in several places along the trails most winters. Its always very well marked that you are coming to a logging site, so that you can slow down and be careful. I have never seen one of them drop a log across a trail.

[quote]likeaninja2000 said: "Summit: While I understand your point, I believe calling the snowmobile trail a highway is a little extreme. (Not being a snowmobiler myself) What is the posted speed limit on the trail?[/quote]

northq

If a person is riding a snowmobile on a designated trail they should have a reasonable expectation that they can do so safely.The logger was warned multiple times that his actions were putting riders at risk yet he continued to fell trees in close proximity to the trail.likeaninja2000 commented "You can never tell what a tree is gonna do once you seperate it from the earth" which is exactly why the logger should not have been cutting trees that might fall across the trail.He showed total disregard for the safety of people riding the trail.

likeaninja2000

I went back to the original article.

"Clark was on Viele Pond Road, which is not plowed in the winter and is part of the South Warren Snowmobile Club trail system. The road is open to vehicle traffic during warmer months, but is off-limits to vehicles other than snowmobiles in the winter"

So this would be like dropping a tree across RT 9.

Cricket: Assuming this was the one out of a million times the tree didn't fall where they wanted it to, how can they prove he dropped it across the trail on purpose?

Can someone explain how you can kill someone and still get charged with second degree assault?


Cricket
Cricket

like - ??? My post has to due with loggers usually being pretty accurate when they fell trees. I have an arborist in the family and 9 times out of 10, when he wants to drop a tree in a particular spot, he does. Sometimes there are issues inside a tree that can cause it to go someplace else, and most responsible arborists understand this. Where in my post do I state that this was done intentionally? I do not believe anywhere in my post I gave an opinion on fault. Perhaps you can point that out to me.

jojo1103

Really? because that's not what I read[quote]tony said: "This is what the logger said. I know that trail. It's not wide enough for a snowmobile to get by if someone was standing in the middle of the trail. And an experienced logger knows how to make a tree fall in whatever direction they want. I know, have done it many times, and I'm not a logger."[/quote]

jojo1103

How would you know he didn't do everything in his powers? were you there?[quote]sparkler1964 said: "He didn't do everything possible.That is why it took so long to charge him.Great job by Kate Hogan and all involved in the investigation.Hopefully justice will be served."[/quote]

likeaninja2000

Cricket: I was only referring to the proof of negligence. Trying to prove if the logger had intended to fell the tree into the trail of if something went wrong and it landed there accidentally. I think it maybe hard to prove he landed the tree in the trail intentionally.

lauren
lauren

They work around and from the trail because of the deep snow.
They drop trees toward the trail for ease of gathering the wood once it hits the ground. There are smarter ways to work.

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