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Driver pleads guilty in Berkeley Co. traffic death

September 18, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A 39-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and driving under the influence first offense in the March 2010 vehicle crash that killed Mary F. Punt of Hagerstown, attorneys said.

Jeffrey Wayne McKinney will be placed on home confinement for 18 months as part of a plea agreement that was reached just before his trial was to begin Tuesday morning, attorneys said.

McKinney is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 13 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III.

McKinney was indicted on single counts of driving under the influence causing death and failure to yield in a March 18, 2010, crash that claimed the life of Punt, 57.

Police have said McKinney admitted to drinking five or six beers the night of the head-on collision that occurred at about 11:30 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 11 and Berkeley Station Road.

While McKinney was not injured in the crash, Punt, who was northbound on U.S. 11, died at the scene, police said.

McKinney turned the 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 pickup he was driving in front of the 1989 Geo Spectrum driven by Punt, according to court documents.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Tuesday that the plea was reflective of “some improper procedures by an (investigating) officer, and that contributed to admissibility issues for other officers who relied on that initial work. It was not misconduct, it was procedural error.”

As a result of those errors, the results of two of three field sobriety tests conducted by a Berkeley County Sheriff’s deputy were determined to be inadmissible, according to Games-Neely and court records.

Defense attorney Harley O. Wagner said the plea was the result of “incomplete law enforcement work.”

With the remaining residual evidence, Games-Neely said she might have been able to obtain a misdemeanor conviction of DUI with death, at best, if the case proceeded to trial.

There’s a lot of evidence that the jury would not have heard in the case, Games-Neely said.

“You’ve got to rely on the evidence you were given,” she said.

The deputy’s procedural errors were training-related, and Games-Neely said he has since sought additional training.

Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

While Silver has discretion in ordering McKinney to pay fines for his convictions at the sentencing hearing, the plea entered Tuesday guarantees McKinney will not serve any jail time, Wagner said.

“First and foremost, Mr. McKinney’s sympathies and regret go to the Punt family,” Wagner said.

Games-Neely said Punt’s family was contacted about the plea agreement and her office was notified Tuesday morning that they agreed with the resolution, given the evidentiary issues.

Games-Neely said the victim’s family wanted some “acceptance of responsibility” by McKinney for causing Punt’s death.

Before the crash, he had no prior criminal history, Games-Neely said.

McKinney, who now lives in Brunswick, Md., lost his privilege to drive in West Virginia as a result of the crash, Wagner said.

Wagner indicated McKinney’s license to drive could be further affected as a result of his guilty pleas Tuesday.

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