ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A guilty plea in Lehigh County court proved that a fatal accident plus a drunk driver does not necessarily equal a vehicular homicide charge.
Amber Washko pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of driving under the influence in an accident that resulted in the death of Joseph Hennessey in May 2013.
The 31-year-old woman was not, however, charged with vehicular homicide.
"The office can only bring a charge when the facts and opinions of an expert clearly show a violation," First Assistant District Attorney Steven Luska said in an interview.
According to Luska, the data compiled by accident reconstruction experts showed that Washko's drunkenness was not a factor in the accident.
Those experts found that the two drivers would only have been able to see each other 1.6 seconds before impact because of earthen structures impeding vision at the intersections of Dauphin Street, American Parkway and Bradford Street in Allentown, where the accident occurred.
Experts also found that, based on accident data, the black box from Hennessey's car and some testimony from people who were in the area of the accident, there was no solid evidence that Washko had committed any other motor code violation.
These violations- such as driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, running a red light or speeding- must be proven alongside gross or negligent driving in order to prove a vehicular homicide charge.
There were no PennDOT or city cameras that were able to record the accident. There were no direct eyewitnesses either, just two cars that were approaching the intersection when the accident happened.
Luska said that Washko's license was intact, testimony of drivers near the intersection supported Washko's assertion that she did not run a red light and expert data showed that she could not have been going over 43 mph.
Luska said that Hennessey's parents understand why Washko was not charged with vehicular homicide, but that they were not happy with the charges.
"This is a unique set of circumstances. In this particular case you have the tragic loss of a life and a person who was clearly intoxicated, but there were a lot of other things involved," Luska said.
Washko will be sentenced on August 1.
She faces a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,00 fine and a one-year license suspension.
The minimum, based on her clean driving record prior to this incident, is 48 hours in jail.
Allentown, PA 18102
- News DEA via CNN