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W.Va. senator pleads guilty to reckless driving

June 30, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Charles Town, W.Va. - The drunken-driving case involving Sen. Herb Snyder was resolved Tuesday when he pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of reckless driving, his attorney said.

Snyder was fined $500 - the maximum - plus $120 in court costs, defense attorney John Skinner said.

A reckless driving charge carries a possible minimum of five days in jail, but Snyder avoided jail time as part of the agreement, Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ralph Lorenzetti said.

As a result of the plea agreement, charges of first-offense driving under the influence and DUI over .10 were dropped against Snyder, Skinner said.

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A defendant is not normally given jail time for reckless driving when that charge has been reduced from a more serious charge as the result of a plea agreement, Lorenzetti said.

The agreement was reached after it was determined that the investigating officer might not return from duty in Iraq in time to help present the case, Skinner said.

The case had to be resolved within a year, Skinner said.

William Parker of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, who investigated the case, is in Iraq working at a security job for a private contractor.

The charges against Snyder stemmed from an incident on Aug. 21, 2003, at the Jefferson County Fair when Snyder was pulled over in his Lincoln Continental after a fair official and others told a deputy that he appeared to be drunk.

Snyder's face was red, his eyes were bloodshot and his breath smelled of alcohol, police said.

A bag containing four empty Coors Light cans, two empty beer bottles and an empty bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade were in Snyder's car, police said.

Snyder failed four sobriety tests, police said.

During a hearing Tuesday morning before Jefferson County Magistrate Mary Paul Rissler, Lorenzetti said he could not pursue the DUI charges against Snyder without Deputy Parker's testimony.

"He was the witness," Lorenzetti said after the hearing.

Snyder could not be reached for comment.

Snyder previously said that he went to a psychiatrist and a drug-and-alcohol treatment center in Shippensburg, Pa., for his drinking problem and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Snyder has said he believes the drunken-driving charges were "very damaging" to his failed re-election bid for the senate seat representing Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Democrat Greg Lance defeated Snyder for the Democratic nomination in the May 11 primary.

Snyder will serve through the end of December.

The case against Snyder was further complicated by the fact that the blood sample taken from Snyder after he was stopped at the fair was lost.

The blood sample was sent to a West Virginia State Police lab in South Charleston, W.Va., for analysis, then returned to the sheriff's department, Lorenzetti said.

The box in which the sample was shipped was found in the sheriff's department, but the vial of blood was not there, Lorenzetti said.

The sample never was found, Skinner said Tuesday.

Lorenzetti said he did not believe the lost blood sample would have hurt the case against Snyder, partly because the blood already had been tested.

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