An Adams County man who has never had a driver's license pleaded guilty Monday to causing a 2010 drug-fueled crash in West Manchester Township that killed township resident Christine Flair.
Zackery Joseph Baumgardner, 25, of McSherrystown, pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, homicide by vehicle, accidents involving death or personal injury while not properly licensed, DUI/drug impairment, driving without a license, careless driving, disregarding traffic lanes and driving at an unsafe speed.
In exchange for his plea, a charge of third-degree murder was dropped, according to chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker.
"We believe that (because) the defendant was willing to take responsibility for his actions, this case could fairly be treated as an aggravated vehicular homicide case for disposition and sentencing, rather than a third-degree murder case," Barker said.
"This was never a murder case -- period," defense attorney George Margetas said. "(But) he's always been willing to take responsibility."
Barker said he and Margetas agreed the charges to which Baumgardner pleaded guilty were appropriate, but could not agree upon how much prison time Baumgardner should serve.
Open plea: Because of that, Baumgardner entered an open plea, meaning it will be up to presiding Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn to determine a punishment. Sentencing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 19.
"The absolute minimum he could receive ... is three to six years of incarceration," Barker said, adding he intends to ask for significantly more prison time than that.
Margetas said he will ask for the minimum mandatory sentence.
"The commonwealth's original offer was 7-1/2 to 15 (years) ... when the law calls for three to six," Margetas said.
The defense attorney said Baumgardner has no criminal record, including no prior DUIs, and never meant to hurt anyone.
The defendant has been cited with several traffic violations, including several for driving without a license, Barker confirmed.
What happened: Baumgardner caused a Dec. 7, 2010, crash on Route 30 that killed Flair, 68, of Lawson Court.
West Manchester Township Police said he was driving a 1991 Geo Prizm westbound on Route 30 at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic, for about a 2-mile stretch prior to the crash, which happened near the East Berlin Road overpass.
Flair was driving a Pontiac Bonneville westbound when Baumgardner tried to make an unsafe lane change and struck Flair's car from behind, police said. Flair's car went off the right side of the highway and struck a tree head-on.
A blood test showed Baumgardner had marijuana and methadone in his system at the time of the crash, according to Barker, who said the defendant has never had a valid driver's license.
Addiction: Margetas said Baumgardner had legally taken methadone as part of his addiction-recovery treatment. The attorney noted that sometimes, recovering heroin addicts also use marijuana to help them stave off heroin relapse.
"My client is a recovering heroin addict and was doing what he needed to do (to stay clean)," Margetas said.
Barker said Baumgardner was actively intoxicated at the time of the crash from the mixture of pot and methadone.
Margetas said he doesn't believe his client was actively high at the time, but agreed the drugs were in his client's system.
"We'll never be able to tell because (police) never did field-sobriety tests at the scene," he said.
Apologized: While pleading guilty, Baumgardner apologized to Flair's family.
"He's wanted to say he's sorry to these people for the longest time ... from the very get-go," said Margetas, who advised Baumgardner to say nothing until the criminal case was resolved. "He never wanted to put the family through a trial. He was distraught (about it)."
Barker said he believes Baumgardner's remorse is real.
"We do hope that ... he will be able to get into appropriate treatment," so he can remain sober after being released from prison, the prosecutor said.
Flair's family was in agreement with the plea, Barker confirmed.
"We wouldn't have agreed to this (without the family) on board," he said.
-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.