A 24-year-old Somerset man was sentenced to seven months and 72 hours to 23 months in Somerset County Jail followed by one year of supervised probation for driving drunk twice within seven months. The second occasion involved an accident, where two women were injured, one seriously.
On Dec. 29, 2011, state police charged Johnathan Heiple with passing two vehicles at a high rate of speed on Route 31 in Somerset Township. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.163 percent. He was placed on a release on recognizance bond at a hearing on March 20, 2012. He pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence in that case.
On June 27, 2012, Heiple crossed the center lane with his vehicle and struck a vehicle driven by Renee Dwire on Route 30 just east of the Westmoreland County line in Jenner Township. His blood-alcohol level was 0.19 percent, according to a state police report.
“My feeling of remorse is extreme,” Heiple told the court. “I’d never put another human being at risk,” he said.
Dwire received several broken bones, cuts and internal injuries that required surgeries. Tiffany Thompson, who was a passenger in Heiple’s vehicle, suffered cuts to her head from striking the windshield. She received stitches, according to court documents. Heiple pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence, recklessly endangering another person and right side laned for traffic in that case.
Dwire, who is walking with a cane, spoke before the court about her experience.
She said that Heiple chose to drive while drunk. She did not have a choice.
“I can’t drive. I can’t go to work,” she said. “I have no choice in that I need more surgery.”
She asked the court to sentence Heiple to the “fullest extent of the law before any other innocent victim is hurt or killed.”
District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser asked President Judge John Cascio to sentence Heiple in an aggravated range of the sentencing guidelines, because it would be more appropriate. Cascio made a rare decision — to modify probation’s recommendation for sentencing.
Heiple was considered a candidate for the intermediate punishment program. The program provides for an immediate intense drug and alcohol treatment, usually house arrest and probation rather than jail. Heiple tested “hot” when he went through the evaluation process for the program, Cascio said.
“The situation when somebody asked for leniency of the courts and puts more drugs in his system waves a red flag in my face,” he said.
The judge ordered Heiple to perform 50 hours of community service. He must pay court costs, a supervisory fee, $2,025 in fines, $30 to emergency medical services and $130 to the catastrophic loss benefits continuation fund. His license is suspended.
He pleaded guilty April 16.