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State trooper agrees to plea in Erie County DUI homicide trial

An Erie County court accepted a defendant's plea of no contest, dispelling the need for a state trooper's DUI homicide trial. The plea relates to a car accident near Union City in Feb. 2012 in which a young Edinboro man died.

The nine-year state police veteran was driving his personal vehicle. He had spent the day fishing and stopped by a pub to eat. The trooper testified he consumed four beers before getting behind the wheel of his pickup truck. What happened next would lead to drunk driving accident charges.

Investigators reported that the pickup crossed into the path of an oncoming Chevrolet Blazer driven by a 21-year-old man. The crash killed the second driver. The off-duty trooper's blood alcohol concentration was 0.13, exceeding the Pennsylvania limit of 0.08.

A plea agreement followed the defense's failed attempt to have evidence suppressed. Prosecutors agreed to drop several misdemeanor and summary counts in exchange for a no contest plea to DUI and DUI homicide by vehicle. A no contest plea acknowledges the evidence without forcing a defendant's admission of guilt.

Sentencing is set for next month. The suspended trooper was freed on bond until his fate is decided. The conviction will cost him his job. A prison term of at least three years is mandatory, although the term could stretch up to ten and a half years. Fines could reach $30,000.

A criminal trial was unnecessary to obtain the conviction. Despite the penalties that follow, a no contest plea allows a defendant to continue to deny guilt. A second trial in civil court clearly could establish that the ex-trooper was negligent.

A wrongful death lawsuit offers recovery for families whose loved ones are killed by the reckless act of someone else. The compensation of a settlement or jury award soothes financial distress. The legal action may also provide emotional closure, especially following criminal cases where guilt was never explicitly determined.

Source: goerie.com, "Suspended trooper enters plea in fatal Route 6 DUI," Lisa Thompson, March 5, 2013

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