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Professor at BU faces charge in fatal crash

PLYMOUTH - A well-known Boston University journalism professor and former longtime ABC News correspondent will be charged with vehicular homicide in connection with an October accident that killed a 26-year-old Plymouth man.

Robert Zelnick, 71, of Brookline, is scheduled to be arraigned next month on misdemeanor charges of failing to yield to oncoming traffic and vehicular homicide, following a hearing on the evidence before a Plymouth clerk magistrate, police and court officials said.

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The author of four books and winner of two Emmy awards, Zelnick worked for ABC News for 21 years; he reported from Israel and Moscow and served for a time as Pentagon correspondent, according to his biography on the Boston University website. He was the executive editor of a series of historic interviews with former president Richard M. Nixon, broadcast in 1977; the Frost-Nixon interviews were later dramatized in a 2008 Hollywood film in which Zelnick’s character was played by Oliver Platt.

The accident happened around noon on Friday, Oct. 7, at the intersection of Route 3 and Clark Road in Plymouth, near the Pinehills Golf Club and residential development. According to a police report, Zelnick turned his 2006 BMW sport utility vehicle left toward the northbound highway on-ramp and into the path of a 2003 Honda motorcycle driven by Brendan M. Kennedy, 26, of Plymouth. Kennedy, who police said was unable to stop before striking the passenger side of the SUV, was pronounced dead at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.

Zelnick said in a brief interview yesterday that he was not at fault in the crash.

“I don’t think I was culpable in any sense,’’ he said.

Police said alcohol was not a factor in the accident. If convicted on the misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge, Zelnick could face up to 2 1/2 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $3,000.

Both men had records of multiple stops by police for driving infractions, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Zelnick was involved in two accidents in 2010 and two others in 2006 and 2007, records show. He was stopped for speeding in New Hampshire in 2001, in Boston in 2002, and twice, in Sudbury and Brighton, in 2000; his record includes other stops by police for failure to stop and a right-of-way violation.

Kennedy was stopped for speeding in Bourne in April, and for two instances of improper or unregistered equipment in Duxbury in February.

Records show he was involved in two accidents, in 2001 and 2002, in Plymouth; had two stops for speeding in Plymouth in 2004 and one in New Hampshire in 2005; and had his license suspended for 180 days in 2006 for refusing to take a chemical test.

Because he had three unresolved offenses in 24 months, Kennedy’s license was suspended in June, and had not been reinstated at the time of the accident, a Registry spokesman said.

Plymouth Police Captain John Rogers said the status of Kennedy’s license was not relevant to the October accident.

“If he had lived, we would have cited him, but it has no bearing on the other driver’s actions,’’ he said.

Zelnick’s license was revoked immediately after the accident because he was deemed a threat in light of the pending charges, the Registry spokesman said.

The fatal accident happened as Kennedy was on his way to his job as a sous-chef at the East Bay Grille restaurant in the Pinehills development, said his mother, Patricia Kennedy.

She described her son as an experienced cyclist and a hard worker, devoted to his family, who had dreamed of owning a restaurant.

“My son is gone, and I’m trying to get through Christmas, and it’s hard,’’ she said before referring further questions to an attorney, who could not be reached.

In the hours before the accident, Zelnick said, he played nine holes of golf at the Pinehills Golf Club, as he has done hundreds of times over the years.

He described the intersection where the crash occurred as “requiring caution,’’ and said he “knew the right of way belonged to others’’ and let other vehicles pass, but he declined to describe how the collision happened, referring questions to his lawyer, who could not be reached.

Zelnick acknowledged that he has Parkinson’s disease, but said it “absolutely in no way’’ impairs his driving ability.

Police issued a citation to Zelnick days after the accident; because the charges were misdemeanors, police said, he had the option of requesting an initial “show cause’’ hearing on the evidence.

At the requested hearing, held in Plymouth District Court and not open to the public, Acting Clerk Magistrate Philip J. McCue found probable cause to charge Zelnick, clearing the way for his arraignment, scheduled for Jan. 20.

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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