Lawyers react to Omaha man’s acquittal in fatal crash due to COVID

An Omaha man has been acquitted by a judge for his role in a deadly 2021 crash because of a COVID-19 complication.
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 6:42 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In November 2021, Gerard Skutnik was behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle.

How fast was he going? Investigators said more than 90 mph when he crashed into 78-year-old Patricia Brinkman’s car.

Brinkman died at the scene and Skutnik was eventually charged with felony motor vehicle homicide

“In this case, the state alleged excessive speeds and the manner in which he operated his vehicle based on their initial investigation,” said Skutnik’s attorney, Glenn Shapiro.

He said his client was facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

However, 57-year-old Skutnik is now a free man following Douglas County District Court Judge Timothy Burns’s decision Thursday. That’s because Shapiro successfully argued the crash was due to a medical condition his client had: COVID syncope.

That’s when someone faints or passes out due to a temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain.

Dr. Andrew Vasey of Nebraska Medicine said there are some reports of people experiencing syncope post-COVID, but it’s tough to determine if it’s a definitive symptom of the disease.

Either way, Shapiro got a doctor to testify that’s what happened with Mr. Skutnik in this case.

“The doctor basically said when he had the syncope event, any movements of his body were involuntary, including pressing on the accelerator, which caused the vehicle to accelerate up to 97 miles an hour at the point of the crash,” Shapiro said.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he respectfully disagrees with the judge’s decision. He said he doesn’t understand how Shapiro’s medical witness could make the conclusion that Skutnik passing out led to the crash, since he had control of the vehicle and stayed in the same lane while speeding before the collision happened.

Shapiro acknowledged it’s a tragic situation for the Brinkman family. Because of that, he said his client has been carrying a heavy burden for the past year and a half.

“He’s very saddened by the events of that day,” he said. “Even though he knows he was not responsible, he feels terrible that he took a human life. He obviously feels vindicated from the verdict yesterday, but this will be a long recovery for him.”

Shapiro said he’s not aware of there being other similar cases in Nebraska.