LANCASTER, Pa. - A Berks County man involved in a fatal boating accident will avoid prison if he completes a court-supervised program for first-time offenders.
Brandon Allen appeared at a hearing in Lancaster on Tuesday regarding the accident in the Susquehanna River, near Drumore.
Allen, 21, of Muhlenberg Township, was accepted into an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program and will be placed on probation for four years.
"I am extremely thankful he got into the ARD program, it was the best outcome we could have had," said April Allen, Brandon's mother.
It was a difficult day for the Allen family after what has been a traumatic 15 months. Friends and family packed the Lancaster County Courthouse on Tuesday.
Allen faced two misdemeanor counts of homicide by watercraft for the accidental drowning deaths of his two friends, Cody Moyer, 20, and Jonny Velez, 21.
"When they first pressed the charges he felt like they were saying he killed his friends," said Barry Allen, Brandon's father. "It's hard to believe that after what he's been through he had to go through this."
Allen's 10-foot boat was overloaded and had no floatation devices when it capsized last summer in the Conowingo Reservoir, authorities said.
Allen was able to swim to shore.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission filed the charges 11 months after the accident following an investigation.
"I can't deny I'm upset my son had to go through this. I don't understand why to this day my son was charged," said April Allen, who added a lot of rage had built up inside her over the past 15 months.
Officials with the Fish and Boat Commission were in court Tuesday and agreed to the ARD program, and they offered their condolences to the victims' families.
The Allens said they don't deny the boat Brandon operated was overloaded and had no life jackets, but they said those charges re-opened wounds and forced everyone to relive the nightmare.
"Today was not just about Brandon, it was about Cody and Jonny again and just all that pain and hurt in all of our faces again," said April Allen, who added she felt like she had been through a train wreck.
Brandon has been suffering from survivor's guilt. He broke down in court and told the judge, "I wish I could trade places with them."
The judge told Brandon, "Nobody intended this to happen. This does not relieve you of moving forward and living a life your friends would be proud of."
Brandon will pay a $650 fee, complete 100 hours of community service and a boating safety course. If he successfully completes the ARD program, the charges could be dismissed.
All three families have been through a lot of pain. They have banded together and hope Tuesday's outcome will provide closure.
"We have to move on because there will never be a happy ending to this story," said April Allen.
Allentown, PA 18102