Five die in Benton accident, one driver charged for criminal negligent homicide
BENTON—Five people died in an accident involving a farm tractor with an attached sprayer and two additional vehicles near the corner of Pre-Emption and Loree Roads, Tuesday, July 19.
The Yates County Sheriff's Department said the incident happened at 12:41 p.m. According to the sheriff's report, Steven Eldridge, 42, 110 E. Main St. Penn Yan, passed the tractor where there was a curve in the road and hit a van with 14 occupants, forcing it to crash into the tractor head on. Sheriff Ron Spike said the van was carrying Amish passengers from Steuben County, who were visiting farms in the area.
According to the report, the deceased are: Melvin Hershberger, 42; Sarah Miller, 47; Melvin Hostetler, 40; Anna Mary Byler, 60; and Elizabeth Mast, 46. Spike said sheriff's deputies arrested Eldridge and charged him with five counts of criminal negligent homicide, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, unsafe passing, speed not reasonable or prudent, and failure to keep right after passing. Spike added Eldridge was arraigned Tuesday evening in the town of Benton court and committed to Yates County Jail in lieu of $125,000 cash bail or $250,000 bond. The report said the Yates County District Attorney's Office plans to put the case before a grand jury, date to be determined.
The sheriff said two people were taken to Geneva General Hospital: John Mast, 47; and Tim LaBarr, 44, who was driving the tractor. Spike said the following were taken to Strong Memorial Hospital, all with multiple and extensive injuries: Lyn Oles, 41; Martha Hostetler, 36; Enos Miller, 32; Rose Anna Miller, 31; Emery Miller, 47; Andy Byler, 60 and Evia Hershberger. 38. The report said David Miller, 51, was treated at the scene and released. Authorities said a small dog was also in the van and was killed.
"This was a horrific accident scene and a tragedy" said Spike.
Sheriff's deputies and state police were on the scene and assisted by multiple volunteer fire departments, ambulances, and medivac helicopters. Spike said the investigators are making plans to reenact the traffic collision as part of the major investigation and accident report.
Authorities said Eldridge, who is originally from Ohio, was also arrested April 21, 2006, for stealing a Rochester patrol car and being chased through the city for several miles. Spike said Eldridge was convicted of grand larceny in the third degree and was in prison for two years.