Appeals Court Overturns Homicide Conviction

RAHWAY – An appeals court ruled that an Iselin man convicted of vehicular homicide should get a new trial.

Brijesh Shah, 35, had been sentenced to 10 years in state prison for causing the death of a homeless man.


Shah struck and killed James Lake in May 2006, officials said. Shah, who admitted drinking a small amount of alcohol on his way home from work, had a blood alcohol level of .13 at the time of the collision and was legally drunk according to officials.

Lake, 53, was balancing a pizza box and a six-pack of beer on his head when he was crossing St. Georges Avenue near Union Street in Rahway on his bicycle. He had a blood alcohol level more than five times the legal limit, officials said.

Prosecutors said that Shah was weaving in and out of traffic and did not stop after he hit Lake. Police found Shah a block and a half from the scene, covered in blood and glass and looking disoriented. He told police that he thought he struck a large dog.

During Shah’s 2008 trial, the judge did not make any reference to the possibility that Lake caused the accident even though all sides agreed to specific language addressing the possibility.

The appellate court determined that the jury should have been instructed that Lake’s conduct could have contributed to the accident as much as Shah’s.

“We readily admit that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that the death of the victim was … connected to defendant’s conduct,” the panel wrote in its opinion. “On the other hand, it was entirely possible that this jury could have found that the victim’s conduct created a situation where defendant’s conduct had no bearing on the ultimate result.

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