'Evidentiary deficiencies': Homicide charges dropped in fatal crash case

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Prosecutors dropped vehicular homicide and DUI charges against a Manchester Township man accused of causing a pair of I-83 crashes that left a woman dead over what attorneys described as "evidentiary deficiencies."

Jacob Heagy ultimately pleaded guilty to the five remaining lesser charges of reckless endangerment and one charge of careless driving. He was ordered to serve probation and pay a fine.

The 29-year-old admitted he caused a crash that set off a chain of events leading up to the death of Terrena Carson, of Harrisburg, in May 2018.

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Pennsylvania State Police allege that about 10 p.m. on May 2, Heagy was driving a pickup truck north on I-83 in Newberry Township when he reportedly reached back to grab a can of chewing tobacco.

He then rear-ended another pickup truck, lost control of his vehicle, swerved left across the lanes and struck the concrete barrier in the median. The other truck stopped along the right side of the highway against a guiderail, police said in charging documents.

Heagy got out of his truck, while it was still in the left lane, and ran to the other truck. Police said he didn’t turn his hazard lights on after the crash.

Carson eventually reached the crash scene and slowed her SUV as she approached Heagy’s truck.

“Unfortunately, there was a tractor-trailer that did not stop,” senior deputy prosecutor Kadin Brown said during Wednesday’s hearing.

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Chain reaction: The tractor-trailer hit the rear of Carson’s SUV and pushed it into Heagy’s truck. The SUV then struck a flatbed tow truck that reached the scene. Meanwhile, the tractor-trailer continued forward, crashing into Heagy’s truck, according to police.

The tow truck driver, who police said was a former EMT, ran to Carson and tried to resuscitate her while she was trapped in her SUV. EMS then arrived, and she was pronounced dead at a local hospital, police said.

The 43-year-old Carson worked for the U.S. Postal Service and had two sons, her obituary shows.

The police report doesn’t indicate whether the other drivers were injured in the crash.

Heagy, meanwhile, left the scene with the responding police's permission, according to Brown, because there were no indications of impairment. He said a friend took Heagy to Harrisburg, and they took some drugs there.

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Blood draw: About five hours after the crash, as police investigated Carson’s death, they asked Heagy to go to a hospital so staff could draw his blood for testing. Investigators found various substances — including amphetamine, marijuana, oxycodone and prescription drugs buprenorphine and midazolam — in his system, police said.

The complaint notes that Heagy received midazolam and fentanyl at the hospital before the blood draw. The other drugs came from somewhere else, police said.

A crash reconstruction expert concluded Heagy caused both crashes, and drugs in his system may have contributed to the incident, according to the complaint.

When investigators interviewed him in 2020, Heagy said he wouldn’t have had drugs in his system at the time of the crash, and he didn’t use any between the crash and the blood draw, the complaint shows.

Heagy was then charged April 30, 2020, nearly two years after the crash, with the vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and reckless endangerment counts.

Police noted he had two past DUI convictions in 2013 and 2015.

'Hinders our prosecution': Brown told Judge Gregory Snyder on Wednesday that if the case went to trial, a doctor would have to agree the level of the substances in Heagy’s system were consistent with his account that he used after the crash.

The five-hour gap between the crash response and the blood draw also hindered the York County District Attorney’s Office’s prosecution on DUI cases, Brown said.

At the same time, he said the crash analysis also found the crash involving the tractor-trailer and Carson’s SUV could have happened whether Heagy’s truck’s lights were on or not.

“This obviously hinders our prosecution to show causation,” Brown said.

He also noted the D.A.’s office made several attempts to reach Carson’s family to update them on the progress in the case, but calls went unreturned. So, he didn’t know whether they would be satisfied with the plea agreement.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t heard back, so I can’t tell you their input,” Brown said.

Likewise, The York Dispatch could not reach family members for comment.

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Judge Snyder said he can’t force the commonwealth to prosecute.

He accepted Heagy’s guilty plea to five misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and then sentenced him to one year of probation on each count, running consecutively.

Heagy also pleaded guilty to a summary offense of careless driving resulting in unintentional death and was fined $500.

Additionally, the judge ordered him to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and suspended his driver’s license for an unspecified length of time.

The vehicular homicide and DUI counts were dismissed due to evidentiary deficiencies, Snyder noted.

Heagy was free on bail during the hearing.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.