'God knows I think about that night every day': Prison in crash that killed Dover Twp. firefighter
A Dover Township man who caused a crash that killed his passenger and friend, 18-year-old Dover Township volunteer firefighter Chase Hartlaub, has pleaded guilty and is heading to state prison.
"God knows I think about that night every day ... the night I lost my friend and you lost your son and brother," Michael F. Mendez II said to Hartlaub's family during his guilty-plea hearing in York County Court on Friday, Jan. 31.
Mendez, 24, said that the night of the crash — June 15, 2018 — was supposed to be a good night, with him showing off his new car to his friends. Instead, it ended in Hartlaub's death, for which Mendez apologized.
"Words cannot express how sorry I am for the loss of Chase," he said.
As part of a negotiated plea agreement, Mendez pleaded guilty to the third-degree felony of homicide by vehicle and four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. The misdemeanor counts were filed on behalf of four other drivers in the area at the time, according to chief deputy prosecutor John Hamme.
Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder sentenced Mendez to the agreed-upon punishment — two to four years in state prison, plus two years' probation — and remanded him forthwith to York County Prison to await transfer to the state prison system.
As part of the agreement, a felony charge of accidents involving death or personal injury/hit and run was dropped. That charge carries a mandatory three- to six-year prison sentence, the prosecutor said.
Hartlaub's parents, Kurt and Wanda Hartlaub, spoke in court about their grief and how they miss their son, according to Hamme.
"They're devastated," he said.
Defense attorney Chris Ferro said his client is heartbroken.
"He hopes his acceptance of responsibility for his actions helps heal the pain that the Hartlaub family is experiencing right now," Ferro said.
The background: Northern York County Regional Police said Mendez crashed his BMW just after 11 p.m. at the intersection of Emig Mill Road and Mayfield Drive in Dover Township and fled the scene on foot, although he turned himself in less than an hour later.
Hartlaub, who lived in New Salem, was the sole passenger in the car and was in the front passenger seat, police said.
According to charging documents, Mendez had a backyard party at his home, which is just a few blocks from the scene of the crash.
At some point, Mendez and Hartlaub left in Mendez's BMW, police said. A third friend, Austin Choate, told police he was leaving the gathering and was walking to his parked car when he saw the BMW "fly up the street," documents state.
Another driver told police she was eastbound on Emig Mill Road when Mendez's car passed her "so quickly she never saw the approaching headlights in her rearview (mirror)," documents state.
She said the BMW passed her a few hundred feet before the vehicles reached the intersection of Mayfield Drive, according to documents.
Another witness, who was driving west on Emig Mill Road, said he saw the eastbound BMW illegally pass a vehicle, then watched as it crashed into another vehicle at the intersection, police said.
BMW clipped SUV: A third witness said the BMW was going about 60 mph when it ran the stop sign at the intersection and clipped the back end of a Ford Explorer, according to police.
The Explorer was being driven by Choate, who was driving home, police said.
Choate also told officers that the BMW ran the stop sign and said he saw "a figure" running from the scene, but he couldn't describe that figure, documents state.
After clipping the Explorer, Mendez's BMW crashed into a split-rail fence, shearing off eight fence posts, according to documents.
"After striking the final post, the vehicle braked heavily, skidding across just under 200 feet of grass and pavement from three residential yards and two driveways," documents state.
During the crash, several of the fence rails impaled the BMW's windshield, with one striking Hartlaub, who died of head trauma, according to charging documents.
Not intoxicated: Northern Regional Police Chief Dave Lash has said alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
After initially leaving the scene, Mendez turned himself in about an hour later at a nearby convenience store, police have said.
Dover Township fire/rescue crews were the first to respond to the crash scene, where they quickly realized they were caring for one of their own.
In addition to being a Dover Township volunteer firefighter, Hartlaub also volunteered with Community Fire Co. of Seven Valleys and North Codorus Township Fire Co.
He had just graduated from York County School of Technology and was starting a new job at a local collision center, according to Dover Township Deputy Fire Chief Brian Widmayer.
Hamme noted that Hartlaub had his whole life ahead of him.
Water tower: Mendez also pleaded guilty Friday to the second-degree misdemeanor of tampering with a public water system for a second unrelated case. He was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay about $8,825 in restitution.
Northern Regional Police said he and others gained access to a water tower belonging to the Dover Township Water Authority on Oct. 16, 2017.
They went over a barbed-wire fence, ignored a "no trespassing sign," then moved a camera that had been pointed toward a ladder that accesses the top of the tower, according to police.
The ladder was protected by another locked gate that has a security sensor, and Mendez allegedly affixed duct tape to that sensor so when the gate was opened, the sensor wouldn't alert water-authority employees to the breach, police said.
Caught by duct tape: Police collected that piece of duct tape and found that Mendez had left a latent fingerprint on the tape's sticky side, charging documents state.
The water authority put the tower out of service until it could be examined, police said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection checked the tower's structural integrity and tested its water, and it found no evidence that either was tampered with, police said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the name of the prosecutor.