Worker pleads guilty in Christmas tree farm death, avoids prison
A seasonal worker at a Christmas tree farm in Warrington Township pleaded guilty Friday in the accidental death of his friend and family member, which resulted from a drunken fight.
Pedro Felipe-Nolazco, 39, pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor of involuntary manslaughter. As part of a negotiated plea agreement, he was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay about $21,000 in restitution, according to his attorney, Ken Eckard.
"The finding was that his actions were grossly negligent, and that there was certainly no intention to cause harm to the victim in this case," Eckard said. "It's a tragedy (resulting from) excessive drinking."
Felipe-Nolazco will return to his family in Mexico immediately, his attorney said.
"Because of the conviction, it is not likely he will ever be permitted to get another visa to return here," Eckard said.
His son, Cecilio Felipe-Vicente, had also been charged in the death of 69-year-old Juan Pozar-Felipe, but his charges were dropped.
The background: Pozar-Felipe and the defendants were seasonal workers at Strathmeyer Christmas Trees on Zeigler Road.
The night of Sept. 10, he was trying to break up a drunken fight between Felipe-Nolazco and Felipe-Vicente when he was pushed and fell, according to state police.
Police said Pozar-Felipe apparently lay on the ground all night long. He was found unresponsive the next morning near the front porch of the employee barracks and taken to York Hospital, where he died Sept. 19 of blunt-force head trauma, officials said.
All three men are from the same town in Mexico, located in the state of Michoacan, according to Eckard, who said they also are related.
Felipe-Nolazco and his son referred to the victim as their uncle, although the family connection might not be quite that straightforward, the attorney said.
Seasonal workers: The men were seasonal workers who lived in Mexico part of the year but came to Strathmeyer Christmas Trees in March to begin working, then returned home every year before Christmas, according to Eckard. They worked hard and were law-abiding, he said.
"(Felipe-Nolazco) worked for 14 consecutive years and was a good and valued employee," Eckard said. "He wanted me to make clear to the court that every day he misses Juan. He thinks of him every day and his is very sorry for what has happened."
Because Felipe-Nolazco is heading home to Mexico and likely will never return to the United States, any restitution payments he makes will basically be on the honor system, Eckard confirmed.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.