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Pleas Considered in Two Fatal DUI Cases in Pennsylvania

Clair Fink was charged with DUI, third-degree murder, and related offenses in May of last year. Driving drunk the wrong direction on Route 30 last spring, Fink head-on collided with a vehicle driven by Ligonier police Lieutenant Eric Eslary, killing him.

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According to police records, Fink and a co-worker had been drinking for hours in their car before driving the wrong direction on Route 30 at around 2 a.m. He and his coworker at  Westmoreland Pool Company were cresting a hill in their van when it crashed into Lieutenant Eslary’s SUV. Lieutenant Eslary was patrolling near Idlewild Park that night.

Fink’s coworker–21-year-old Derek Gifford–told police investigators that Fink and he had consumed the majority of an 18-pack of beer that night. Gifford further stated that Fink’s driving that evening scared him. He had notified Fink that he was weaving two or three times prior to the collision.

Fink’s defense attorney has indicated that his client will take a plea, stating neither party wants to go to trial. Leaving the courthouse, Fink told reporters that he wanted the case to be closed as soon as practicable for the sake of his family.

According to the police affidavit, Fink’s BAC at the time of the collision was .197, which is over twice the legal limit in Pennsylvania. Fink also tested positive for cannabis. The hearing is set for September 16, on which Fink will likely plead guilty. If not, the case goes to trial on October 3.

Lieutenant Eslary was 40 years old at the time of his death. His May memorial service was attended by roughly 600 friends, family members, and fellow police officers. A 17-year veteran of the force, Fink was remembered as an upbeat and loyal officer largely responsible for creating Ligonier’s police dog program. His wife and he had six children.

In a similar case, plea negotiations are underway for a Chambersburg resident charged in a fatal DUI collision. Twenty-six-year-old Shane Barnhart was charged with vehicular homicide while driving drunk in connection with an October 2014 accident on U.S. 11 in Guilford Township. Barnhart killed 45-year-old Karen Payne of West Virginia.

In the affidavit, police alleged that Barnhart indicated he was a recovering heroin addict who went to a clinic every morning in Washington County for methadone. If plea negotiations don’t go through, trial is scheduled for December 19th and 20th in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

These cases perhaps suggest an unwillingness on the part of defendants, the Commonwealth, and Pennsylvania judges to go to trial in DUI cases. Reaching a plea deal saves parties and the Commonwealth time and money and is particularly useful when guilt is undisputed.

Hiring the right attorney can make all the difference in the world, even if your case seems straightforward or you have no criminal record.  If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, make sure you have a capable attorney on your side. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Zachary B. Cooper will be aggressive and will fight to make sure that your rights are protected so that your family and you can move on with your lives. Call (215) 542-0800 for a free consultation to discuss the legal options that may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Reverses DUI Conviction in Light of McNeely, Pennsylvania DUI Blog, September 1, 2016.

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds DUI Defendant Not Constitutionally Entitled to Jury Trial, Pennsylvania DUI Blog, August 25, 2016.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Quashes DUI Appeal as Untimely, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, August 10, 2016.

Pennsylvania Police Adjust to New DUI Laws Mandated by Supreme Court, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, July 15, 2016.