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Teen admits involvement in rock-throwing, awaits penalty

July 14, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

What could have happened - especially to a trucker whose windshield was smashed while driving at highway speeds - might weigh heavily in a case in which a teen was throwing rocks onto Interstate 81 near Hagerstown, the judge hearing the case said in court Wednesday.

The 14-year-old boy, dressed in slacks and a dress shirt, admitted involvement in a juvenile court proceeding to a single charge of malicious destruction of property valued more than $500 in connection to the case.

The teen's name is not being published because he is a juvenile.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley, who presided over the juvenile case, ordered the boy to be held in a detention facility for two weeks, when the boy will come back to court for a decision on what his penalties will be.

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An admission in juvenile court is similar to a guilty plea in adult cases, but the maximum penalty in juvenile cases is for the defendant to be held outside the home in a locked facility until he or she turns 21.

Reading from a statement of facts, Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Steven C. Kessell said that police first were called at about 11 p.m. on April 19 for rocks being thrown onto the I-81 near the Interstate 70 interchange.

Several trucks had been hit, and a state police cruiser driven by one of the responding officers also was hit, Kessell said.

Police searched unsuccessfully that night for the rock throwers, but received a phone call the next day from Jerry Higginbotham, 18, of Fairfield, Pa., who said people had been throwing rocks at his home along Lakeside Drive, which is near the I-81/I-70 interchange.

Higginbotham soon told police that he and the teen in court Wednesday were the ones who threw rocks the night before, Kessell said. The teen then gave a written statement to police, at one point saying "they had been stupid," Kessell said.

The teen said he had personally tossed about 20 rocks into the roadway, Kessell told Beachley.

A Washington County Public Schools official told Beachley the teen has had behavioral problems at Williamsport High School, and one of the truck drivers spoke before the court.

Richard Williams, of Chicago, testified that he was the driver of a tractor-trailer that was struck.

"I was just going down 81 south," Williams said. He was chatting on the citizens band radio with a truck behind him when the windshield shattered, he said.

"It was scary," Williams said, shaking his arms in front of him. He said the glass hit his body, and a small piece got in his eye, but he was able to remove it.

Williams, directing his comments toward the teen, said, "I really hate that it happened. Young fellow, may God bless you."

While no one was seriously injured in the incident, "this could have been manslaughter. ... A rock goes through a window and kills someone, that could be manslaughter," Beachley said from the bench. "It's just a serious case."

Higginbotham entered a guilty plea in Washington County District Court on June 9 to one count of malicious destruction of property and was sentenced to one year in jail with all but three months suspended. He was also ordered to pay $833 in restitution to a second truck driver.

Higginbotham has appealed his case to Washington County Circuit Court and entered a not guilty plea, but no hearing for the appeal has been set.

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