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Pa. man won't serve jail time for fatal crash

June 21, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An Orrstown, Pa., man will serve no jail time after pleading no contest Monday to involuntary manslaughter in a 1997 accident in which an Amish girl was killed when the buggy she was riding was hit by a car.

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Jason Scott Johnson, 21, of 11400 Skyline Drive, entered the plea before Franklin County President Judge John R. Walker. As part of a plea agreement, Johnson will face probation when he is sentenced on Aug. 4.

"This is a tough case. Basically a case of him exceeding the speed limit on a very dangerous stretch of road," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said after the hearing.

Johnson had been scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of involuntary manslaughter and homicide by vehicle.

According to Pennsylvania State Police records, the accident happened on Oct. 27, 1997, at 3:30 p.m. on Pa. 641 in Lurgan Township, Pa.

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Police said Johnson was driving a 1993 Ford Mustang west when he crested a hill and struck the rear of a two-wheeled horse cart driven by Benjamin Stoltzfus, of Orrstown.

Stoltzfus, now 10, and his sisters, Miriam Amelia and Bena Mae, were thrown from the cart. Bena Mae, 6, was killed. Daniel and Miriam had minor injuries, according to police.

Franklin County Coroner Kenneth L. Peiffer said at the time that the children were returning home from school.

Defense attorney David S. Keller said the prosecution would have had to prove the driver's actions amounted to "gross negligence or recklessness" to get a conviction.

"There's a real question as to whether speed alone would rise to that standard," Keller said. He said there was a substantial disagreement between defense and prosecution expert witnesses as to the speed at which the man was traveling.

Keller said a prosecution witness was prepared to testify the car was traveling at 67 mph while a defense expert would have testified the speed was closer to 50 mph. The speed limit on the road is 45 mph.

Nelson said it would have been difficult to prove how fast the car was traveling. The police report said the car's brakes locked after the car crested the hill.

The Stoltzfus family was represented at the hearing by Sandra W. Freeman, according to Nelson and Keller. "She indicated the family had forgiven Jason," Nelson said.

"Because of their faith they won't have anything to do with the court system," Keller said. The family had reached a settlement with Johnson's insurance company, he said.

"Jason was 19 at the time, and he's still having to deal with this tragedy," Keller said.

Involuntary manslaughter and homicide by vehicle are both first-degree misdemeanors. A conviction on either charge caries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, according to Nelson.

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