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Potter sentenced to prison in Pa. deaths

January 20, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Greencastle, Pa., man convicted in the deaths of a father and son in a 1998 drunken driving accident was sentenced Wednesday in Franklin County Court to six to 12 years in state prison.

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Thomas A. Potter, 59, of 2990 Buchanan Trail West, pleaded no contest last year to two counts of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence. As part of the plea agreement the prosecution agreed not to seek more than the mandatory minimum sentence of three years on each count.

"This is what Mr. Potter took from me," a sobbing Jennifer Hykes said, holding up photographs of her husband, Mark, 34, and son, Daniel, 4, who were killed in the April 18, 1998, accident. She said one picture showing her son playing with his younger brother was taken just two hours before the accident.

Mark and Daniel Hykes were stopped on Buchanan Trail West waiting to make a left turn when their Ford Escort was struck from behind by Potter's van, Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Jill McCracken said. The impact forced the car into the eastbound lane where it was hit by a Nissan Pathfinder driven by Robert Branco of Dumfries, Va.

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McCracken said Potter's blood alcohol level was 0.237 percent. A person is considered legally intoxicated in Pennsylvania with a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent.

"He will never have his daddy to raise him," Jennifer Hykes said about her other son Noah. "He took his brother from him," she said.

"Mr. Potter made a choice when he decided to drink and drive. ... We had no choice," she said.

She asked Judge John R. Walker to give Potter "consecutive sentences for as long as the law allows."

Potter's attorney, Charles Rector, asked for concurrent sentences, noting the electrician and grandfather had no prior criminal record. He called psychologist Dr. Stanley Schneider to testify about an examination he conducted to evaluate Potter's level of remorse.

"It devastates you. ... Any time I see a small child I think of that child," Schneider said, quoting Potter from an interview he conducted.

"I stand before you with a heavy heart. If I could trade places with Mr. Hykes and his son, I certainly would," Potter said, reading from a written statement.

"What really swayed the court heavily was your blood alcohol content," Walker said after giving Potter consecutive sentences. He told Potter his family can visit him in prison, but, "If Mrs. Hykes wants to visit her husband or son, she has to go to the cemetery and look at a tombstone."

"The remorse you suffered can't begin to amount to the suffering you've caused," Walker said.

Potter's wife, four daughters and several friends attended the sentencing. Jennifer Hykes also had a number of family and friends in the courtroom.

In addition to the prison sentence, Walker ordered Potter to pay $1,000 in fines and restitution to the Hykes family for funeral and other expenses.

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