Second chance for Etters man whose twin died in fiery crash
Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner told a young man who caused a fiery crash that killed his twin brother, "you shouldn't be saddled with this for the rest of your life."
Prosecutors agreed, which was one reason why Jacob Hershey was allowed to enter into a plea agreement that will allow him to avoid a criminal record — if he does everything required of him for the next year.
"Mr. Hershey, I wish you luck," the judge said at the close of Monday's plea hearing in York County Court. "You have a heavy burden to bear here. I understand that."
"Thank you, your honor," Hershey said.
Hershey, 20, of Old Trail Road in Newberry Township, pleaded guilty Monday to a summary offense of careless driving/causing an unintentional death as well as the second-degree misdemeanor of reckless endangerment.
As part of his plea agreement, other charges were dropped, including the third-degree felony of vehicular homicide that, if he'd been convicted, could have sent him to prison.
The crash: At 1:32 p.m. June 15, 2014, identical twins Jacob and Joshua Hershey were in their red 1978 Chevrolet Corvette, heading westbound on Old Trail Road less than a mile from their home when Jacob Hershey, who was driving, lost control, Newberry Township Police have said.
Their Corvette veered across the road, crashed into a massive boulder, flipped over and burst into flames. The force of the impact moved the nearly 3-ton boulder about 25 feet, police have said.
Joshua Hershey was thrown from their car and suffered fatal injuries. A neighbor pulled Jacob Hershey from the fiery wreckage, and he was rushed to York Hospital.
The twins were 18 at the time and recent Red Land High School graduates.
Deferred sentence: The terms of the plea agreement called for Bortner to sentence Jacob Hershey on the summary offense, which he did by imposing a $500 fine and a six-month suspension of his driver's license.
Sentencing on the reckless endangerment charge was deferred until Sept. 15, 2017. At that time, Jacob Hershey will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and the charge will be dismissed — assuming he's fulfilled the court's requirements.
Those requirements include performing 75 hours of community service, preferably with an agency involved in teaching driver safety and driver education to youths, according to chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker.
He also must participate in York County's Victim Impact Panel as both a student and, later, as a presenter, Barker said, and attend the next session of Drag School USA, which will be held in May 2017. According to its website, Drag School USA is an intensive, personalized behavioral program designed to mature teens and young adults into better drivers and citizens.
A year from now: If Jacob Hershey fails to complete those requirements, he would not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge and would have to be sentenced for it, according to Barker. He would then have a criminal record. (The summary careless driving citation is akin in severity to a traffic ticket.)
Barker said the plea agreement will provide structure and accountability for the young man.
Bortner noted the agreement "is a little unusual" but told the defendant the plea was designed to "help you move forward from this and still hold you accountable."
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney R. Mark Thomas said he believes it was a good resolution and one that will allow "for the whole family to start moving forward."
Trial a risk: Thomas said he remains unconvinced a jury would have convicted his client of felony vehicular homicide, but he said the plea agreement allowed Jacob Hershey to avoid that risk while still allowing prosecutors to put the community on notice that driving recklessly or carelessly can have legal consequences.
Whether the crash will keep Jacob Hershey from a career in law-enforcement remains to be seen, his attorney said.
"It's been a tragedy for everybody," Thomas said. "They were just good young men. ... It's just a shame."
Friends have described the Hershey twins as best friends who did everything together.
High-speed wreck: Jacob Hershey wasn't on alcohol or drugs when he wrecked the Corvette, according to court documents.
A crash reconstruction determined the Corvette was traveling about 85 mph at the time of the crash — about twice the posted speed limit, documents state.
When charges were filed, Newberry Township Police Chief John Snyder told The York Dispatch he didn't want to see Jacob Hershey convicted of vehicular homicide.
"This is a horrible tragedy for the family and for the (surviving) brother. The family has been devastated by this," Snyder said. "How are you going to hurt that brother any more than he's been hurt already?"
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.