Two 19-year-olds testified Thursday that a district judge from Erie County blew past them on Interstate 79 in January this year, and after an exchange of middle fingers, brandished a silvery handgun.

In an unusual legal moment, all charges ended up dropped against Erie 3rd Ward District Judge Tom Carney, 55, but only because the prosecution rested its case before it had identified it was Carney — and not his passenger — who had held the pistol out his window.

While District Judge Lorinda L. Hinch, Mercer, asked defense attorney Dave Ridge to let the case be re-opened long enough to identify Carney — a subject not in much dispute — Ridge objected.

Ms. Hinch then dismissed charges of terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct, and reckless endangerment, and Assistant District Attorney Brian Farrone said he will re-file all the charges as soon as possible and hold the entire preliminary hearing again.

According to state police, Carney said he picked up a Walther PPK handgun that is properly registered to him and showed it to the teens in order to “de-escalate” a situation that involved them flipping one another off while northbound on I-79.

The victims, Nico Baldelli and Ryan Tanner, said Thursday they were headed to Mercyhurst College, where they are roommates, when Carney’s car “flew” past them.

Baldelli, who was driving, said he and Tanner were in the left lane going 70 mph, saw the other car’s brights flash, and then it went by them on the right. Baldelli and Tanner both testified the driver flipped them off, and that they could see it in spite of darkness.

Baldelli sped up and matched his vehicle, turned on their dome light, and flipped the driver off in return, they said. Then, Carney pulled ahead, and they saw a silvery gun extended out the window, “waved around” in a circular motion.

Both said the gun was not pointed at them, but Tanner testified that he felt threatened, since a bullet could have hit their car or spooked Baldelli into causing a wreck.

Ridge argued the gun was not pointed at either young man, and Carney was merely showing them he had the weapon. He said there is no law against showing someone a gun.

Farrone said Carney pulled a weapon intentionally out of his center console, rolled down a window, “and aimed it in the direction of 19-year-old kids.” There was physical menace in the act, Farrone said, and the two teenagers feared for their safety, whether from the gun or from the accident it could have caused.

Ridge also suggested it was Baldelli and Tanner who protracted the instance of road rage by catching up with Carney. He said if Carney had meant to threaten them, he could have shown them the gun while side-by-side.

Carney, answering questions outside the courthouse, said he hopes this experience will make him a better judge.


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