An East Prospect man apologized in court on Monday for running a stop sign in 2009 and causing a crash that killed a motorcyclist and his passenger.
Struggling to control his voice while reading from a lengthy prepared statement, Steve Robert Foote not only apologized for causing the fatal crash, he also expressed remorse for not apologizing in person to his victims' loved ones sooner. (He previously sent them letters of apology, a prosecutor confirmed.)
Killed in the June 29, 2009, York Township crash were Robert Leber, 44, of Springfield Township and passenger Penny Hess, 44, of North Carolina. It happened just before 10 p.m.
"I cannot begin to say how sorry I am to Robert and Penny's family and friends," Foote said.
He said defense attorney Ed Paskey advised him not to say anything until the case was resolved, but Foote said he takes "all the responsibility" for the delay.
Didn't know road: As his victims' loved ones listened silently -- and members of his own family cried -- Foote explained he was driving home from Lake Williams, where he'd been fishing.
"I was truly unfamiliar with the roadways," he said, and while eastbound on Hess Farm Road he ran the stop sign at the Iron Stone Hill Road intersection. Foote, 31, said his stomach dropped when he realized it.
"At this same moment I felt the impact of the motorcycle," he said. Police said Leber was southbound on Iron Stone Hill Road.
Foote said he climbed out a window of his Ford Explorer and ran to Leber, not realizing two people had been on the Harley-Davidson.
'Hang on': "I tried to talk to him and help him any way I could," Foote said, "encouraging him to hang on."
A neighbor with a flashlight found Hess lying nearby, at which point Foote ran to her.
"I did the best I could to help," he said.
Since the crash, Foote has been in contact with nine local high schools about speaking in driver education classes, he said, and has so far spoken to 11 different driver ed classes.
Paskey told presiding Common Pleas Judge John S. Kennedy that Foote is "going to continue to punish himself for a very long time."
No drugs or booze: Foote was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, and it doesn't appear he was speeding, at least not to an extent that factored into the crash, Kennedy noted.
In March, Foote pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter, careless driving and running a stop sign.
As part of a negotiated plea agreement, prosecutors dropped felony charges including homicide by vehicle, and both sides agreed to a sentencing cap of six to 23 months in prison.
Kennedy noted that other than the crash, Foote had no vehicle violations since 1999.
Remorse 'genuine': The normally poker-faced judge struggled to remain composed as he spoke. He said it's not unusual for him to hear defendants express remorse. But it's far less common to actually believe that remorse is genuine, as is the case with Foote, he said.
"This is probably one of the saddest cases I've had," Kennedy said.
He sentenced Foote to three to 23 months in county prison, starting June 11, followed by three years of probation.
Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge also ordered Foote to surrender his driver's license for three years, perform 400 hours of community service, and pay $2,586 in restitution to Hess' family and $5,513.77 in restitution to the state's victim compensation fund.
Sentence 'fair': Paskey said Foote, who is self-employed as a property manager and has a 4-year-old son, already has $5,500 in escrow for restitution and will pay the rest promptly.
Prosecutors maintain the crash rose to the level of a crime due to Foote's recklessness in not seeing a sign warning of a stop sign up ahead, not seeing the stop sign and not seeing the Harley's headlight.
"Given the circumstances, with two people deceased, I think my client would agree it's a fair sentence," Paskey said.
Since 2002, there have been 18 reportable crashes at the intersection, according to Paskey, who said the state Department of Transportation has since changed the intersection to a four-way stop.
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at email@example.com, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.