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Manslaughter sentence for ex-officer has 3-year minimum term

A former police officer was recently sentenced in a Pennsylvania courtroom for charges related to the deaths of two Northampton County motorcyclists and injuries of four other riders. Charges for the drunk driving accident were reduced from DUI vehicular homicide and assault to involuntary manslaughter and a series of lesser alcohol-related charges.

The defendant was convicted in December for causing the fatal vehicle accident. The sentence the ex-officer received was considerably lighter than the 18 years he might have served for the homicide charges. The defendant will spend at least three years in state prison with a maximum term of just under 10 years.

A defense attorney requested bail for an appeal and a new trial. Both were denied.

Accident reports say the former policeman was driving a pickup truck in Bangor that crossed over a center line and plowed into a group of motorcyclists. One of the bikes burst into flames. Two riders died instantly. Four others suffered injuries.

The defendant refused a hospital blood test. A breath test at the time of the collision showed a blood alcohol content level of 0.11, just above the limit of 0.08. The defense lawyer argued that a blood sugar problem, not alcohol, affected the defendant's driving ability. At one point during the trial, the defense tried to convince the jury that the bikers caused the accident.

Almost one dozen people testified during the sentencing hearing. One of the motorcyclists hurt in the accident told the court that the former officer's "excuses" were unbelievable. Apparently, the defendant changed his version of the accident multiple times when talking with investigators.

A criminal trial may not be the only court action the defendant faces. Civil actions filed by family members and accident survivors could claim driver negligence and appropriate damages for the harm caused during the accident.

Reports did not indicate whether wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits were being considered.

Source: lehighvalleylive.com, "John P. Heaney III will go to prison for years in death of two motorcyclists - UPDATE," Tom Shortell, Jan. 14, 2013

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Gregory R. Gifford
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