A 74-year-old Stewartstown man who plays organ for his church has avoided prison for causing a 2011 crash in North Hopewell Township that killed another driver.
Charles Robert Jackson, of 67 S. Kennard Dale Ave., pleaded guilty Thursday in York County Court to vehicular homicide — a third-degree felony — and the summary offense of failing to stay in his own lane, according to court records.
As part of a negotiated plea agreement, Jackson was sentenced to four years of probation, 250 hours of community service and a $25 fine, records state.
As part of his community service, Jackson will participate in making video-recorded public-service announcements about the dangers of taking prescribed medications while driving, according to chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker.
"He's willing to do speaking engagements as well," Barker said. "Sometimes through tragedy people are called to speak upon a subject. ... Hopefully this will have a real impact and effect on society."
Jackson caused a crash just before 1 p.m. Oct. 23, 2011, that killed 60-year-old Patricia Lee Freed of Faraway Drive in North Hopewell Township.
The crash: State police said Jackson was driving his Jeep Liberty southbound on Route 24 at Church Road in North Hopewell Township when he "dozed off," causing the Jeep to drift into the northbound lane and hit Freed's Nissan Altima head-on.
Jackson "essentially passed out behind the wheel" because of legally prescribed medication, according to defense attorney Ron Gross.
"He was driving back from church, where he plays the organ" when the crash happened, Gross said. "He doesn't remember feeling sleepy."
Court documents filed by state police also link the crash to Jackson's medication.
Two days prior to the fatal crash, Jackson's doctor had increased his dose of Lyrica, Gross said. Lyrica is a medication often used to treat pain.
Passed out: It was Jackson's legal responsibility to determine how the medication could affect him, but he didn't read about the drug's side effects, his attorney said.
"The result was, he passed out," Gross said.
Gross called Jackson a model citizen who plays organ at a local church and volunteers at a local animal shelter.
"He's just a great guy," the attorney said, with no driving record and no criminal record.
Prison time: "Technically there should have been jail time" for the vehicular homicide charge, Gross said. "But the district attorney's office spoke with the victim's husband ... who was very understanding that this was a medical issue."
Jackson was relieved to finally be able to apologize to Freed's husband, according to his attorney.
"He's lived with this and, really, he's not going to forgive himself," Gross said.
Barker said Freed's husband did not want Jackson to serve prison time, and was pleased to learn Jackson has given up driving for the rest of his life.
Heartfelt apology: "(Jackson) gave as sincere and as heartfelt an apology as I've ever heard," the prosecutor said. "This is an upstanding citizen who for one moment in time made a grossly negligent decision."
Barker said people must demand information about their medications from their doctors, and said Jackson's doctor didn't provide him with the information Jackson needed to understand the effect an increased dose of Lyrica could have.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.