Family upset by plea deal in death Teen's sentencing is set for July 29
SUNBURY - The father of a Coal Township teen killed in a car crash last summer isn't happy with the prospect that the driver will only serve 90 days in jail.
"He goes to jail for three months, but my son isn't coming home in three months," said Norman Dorsett, 48, of Shamokin. "How is that fair?"
Kyle Lynn Koontz, 19, of Shamokin, charged with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence in connection with a June 14, 2012, accident in Zerbe Township that killed his friend, David W. Dorsett, 19, pleaded guilty Friday morning to misdemeanors of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence of a controlled substance, and a summary of reckless driving.
Koontz remains free on $20,000 unsecured bail.
The plea entered before Judge William H. Wiest calls for a recommended sentence of 90 days imprisonment, six months of house arrest and supervised probation up to five years.
While that upset the family, Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini described it as a "reasonable resolution" based on the possibility for successful prosecution based in part on the chemical evidence.
Wiest will sentence Koontz at 9:15 a.m. July 29, at which time additional charges of homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence of a controlled substance, recklessly endangering another person and careless driving will not be prosecuted.
Koontz, of 130 S. Market St., and his attorney, Trudy A. Marietta Mintz, of Mechanicsburg, declined comment about the plea upon leaving Northumberland County Courthouse. Norman Dorsett and other family members, meanwhile, had plenty to say.
"I think the plea agreement is ridiculous," said Norman Dorsett. "I'm very frustrated with the whole process. David has been gone for about 11 months and he's not coming back. Basically, this is telling us it's all right to go up the mountain, have a good time and kill your best friend."
After Koontz is sentenced, Dorsett said he plans to file a wrongful death suit against the defendant.
"I don't want money. It's just about purpose," he said.
Dorsett, who was wearing a T-shirt dedicated to his son's memory, said he plans to donate whatever money he gets from the lawsuit to the Shamokin Area High School track team, of which his son was a member.
Dorsett and his family were seeking a jury trial in the case and are disappointed that won't occur.
Family: Lack of remorse
They also are disturbed by what they say is Koontz's lack of remorse for the victim and his family.
"The kid has had no remorse since the accident and has shown no responsibility for his actions," Dorsett said. "David was the type of kid who made you laugh. He was a good, all-around kid until he met Kyle about two years ago. Kyle is trying to take the easy way out."
Dorsett said his 43-year-old wife, Tammy, couldn't attend Friday's plea because of the emotions involved with the case. "Just seeing Kyle makes her mad," he said.
Norman Dorsett's niece, Shannon Hummel, 38, of Kulpmont, said she considered David to be her nephew.
"This isn't fair. The laws need to be tougher on people who choose to do drugs and drink and drive," she said. "I'm very disappointed in the judicial system."
Ruth Fasold, 57, of Coal Township, David Dorsett's aunt, said she's angry over Koontz's lack of remorse.
"We have a bad drug and drinking problem in our area and it continues to escalate every day," she said.
Rosini, who consulted with the victim's family about the plea agreement, said the deal was agreed to because of several evidentiary issues.
Rosini said blood testing revealed no alcohol or active marijuana in the defendant's blood, while testing did reveal the non-intoxicating metabolite of marijuana in Koontz's blood.
He believes since intoxication could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, homicide by vehicle while DUI, recklessly endangering another person and aggravated assault by motor vehicle could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Rosini said the metabolite of marijuana is listed on the controlled substance schedules for DUI, which means having that substance in the driver's blood was sufficient to prove DUI, and his driving conduct was sufficient to establish the offenses of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving.
He also pointed out that the accident occurred on a private road, where generally the vehicle code is not enforceable.
"While we believe it could be shown that the road was open to the public, homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter have the same offense gravity score for sentencing," Rosini said. "A plea to involuntary manslaughter eliminated the need to prove the road was open to the public and removes that issue from the case."
He concluded, "I believe the plea in this case reflects the evidence we have available to present if the case went to trial, and what we believe a jury would conclude from that evidence. We have an ethical obligation to prosecute only charges we have evidence to support."
He said he understands the Dorsett family's feelings.
"I sympathize with them. Losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through," he said. "But the plea was the most reasonable resolution we felt could be reached when considering all the facts in the case."
He added, "My heart goes out to the family. There is nothing we can do to bring their son back."
The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is five years imprisonment and/or $10,000 fine. The DUI charge carries a maximum penalty of six months incarceration and/or $5,000 fine. The reckless driving offense carries a maximum penalty of 90 days imprisonment and/or $300 fine.
9 days after graduation
Koontz, who turned himself in to authorities in January, was charged by Trooper Daniel Wilk of state police at Stonington.
The fatality took place on Anthracite Road near Route 2044 in Zerbe Township shortly before 9 a.m., nine days after Koontz and Dorsett graduated from Shamokin Area High School.
Koontz told police he drank a couple of beers and smoked a small amount of marijuana about five hours before the crash near Trevorton.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Koontz was driving west in a 1998 Crown Victoria on the one-lane dirt road, while he and his friends were returning from camping in the mountains the night before.
Police said Koontz was speeding when he failed to negotiate a left turn and the car began to slide. Koontz counter-steered to try to regain control, but that action, police said, caused the car to slide back across the road.
Koontz told police he was trying to regain control when he "hit something hard," which threw the vehicle out of control.
The car went off the north side of the road and hit a ditch with its right front corner, causing it to spin clockwise and strike several small trees. Dorsett, sitting in the front passenger seat and not wearing a seat belt, was partially ejected at that point, police said. The car then went into a barrel roll and landed on its roof in the middle of the road, pinning Dorsett underneath.
He was pronounced dead at the scene by Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley. An autopsy determined the cause of death as craniocerebral injuries, which Kelley said were suffered in the rollover.
Koontz and the other passengers, Brett J. Case, 19, of Coal Township, a 17-year-old Shamokin male and a 16-year-old Coal Township male, crawled out through the car's windows.