COM Prof Pleads Not Guilty in Vehicular Homicide
Robert Zelnick says he wasn’t negligent in fatal collision
A court entered a not guilty plea Friday on behalf of a distinguished former ABC journalist and BU professor facing misdemeanor charges of vehicular homicide and failing to yield after an October crash that killed a motorcyclist.
A pretrial hearing was set for Robert Zelnick, a College of Communication professor of journalism, on May 25 in Plymouth District Court.
“There was no negligence on my part,” Zelnick said in a recent interview with BU Today. “If I thought I had been negligent in this situation, I’d come forward and say, ‘I don’t know how I did something like this, but I did.’”
The October 7 accident occurred at the Route 3–Clark Road intersection in Plymouth as Zelnick was driving home after playing a round of golf. Police say he turned his 2006 BMW SUV left onto the on-ramp to Route 3, crossing the oncoming lane and into the way of the motorcycle driven by Brendan M. Kennedy. Kennedy, 26, crashed into the SUV and was pronounced dead at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.
Alcohol was not a factor, police say. Zelnick, 71, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005, but said in the interview that it does not impair his driving and was not a factor in the accident. He has passed two driving tests since his diagnosis, he said. He has been ordered not to drive while the charges are adjudicated.
Both he and Kennedy had several driving violations on their records, according to the Boston Globe, which reported that Kennedy’s license was under suspension at the time of the accident because of three alleged driving violations in the previous 24 months. The Globe said that Zelnick’s infractions included two accidents in 2010, two between 2006 and 2007, four speeding stops from 2000 to 2002, and other stops for a right-of-way violation and failing to stop. Zelnick said in the interview with BU Today that those infractions were irrelevant in the current case, adding, “I have never had, until this time, a person who was injured while I was at the wheel.”
He acknowledged that Kennedy typically would have had the right of way. But he said witnesses would support his claim that he wasn’t negligent. He and his lawyer, Kevin Mullen, declined to elaborate, with Mullen noting that the police investigation of the crash is continuing. Zelnick did say that he did not see Kennedy in the oncoming lane as he made his left-hand turn.
He said he was very familiar with the area of the crash, having made the trip “700, 800 times, going back 10 years.”
Both COM Dean Thomas Fiedler (COM’71) and Zelnick said the journalism professor will teach as usual this semester while the case moves through the court. Fiedler said the situation “remains a personal one for Professor Zelnick and does not affect his COM responsibilities.”
Zelnick’s lawyer advised him not to give an interview to the Globe, which reported the story before Christmas, he said, but “I’m a journalist. My whole career has been in reporting facts. If there was any way that was humanly possible for me to discuss the situation with a journalist without getting into matters that clearly have to be held back for a later stage in the procedure, then I wanted to do that.”
Vehicular homicide carries a maximum punishment of up to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
Zelnick won two Emmys for his journalism and has written four books. He was a foreign and Pentagon correspondent for ABC as well as executive editor of David Frost’s 1977 interviews with Richard Nixon. (Oliver Platt played Zelnick in Frost/Nixon, the 2008 film about the interviews.)
“This is a tragedy all around,” Mullen said, for Zelnick and for Kennedy’s family, who have “lost a family member.”24 Comments