The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week upheld the prison sentence of former state Rep. Thomas Druce, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a 1999 hit-and-run accident that killed a Harrisburg man.
Druce pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident, insurance fraud and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to two to four years in prison, but has been permitted to continue living with his family in Bucks County and working at the Capitol as a consultant pending his appeals.
A former rising star of the Republican Party, Druce was serving his fourth term in the House when the vehicle he was driving on a dark street near the Capitol on July 27, 1999, struck and killed 42-year-old Kenneth Cains. Druce then drove away from the scene.
Druce had his leased sport-utility vehicle repaired, traded the vehicle in and lied to his insurance company about the accident. Police did not question him about the accident until January 2000, after they received an anonymous tip.
He resigned from his House seat and remains free on bail.
In May 2003, Druce’s lawyers urged Pennsylvania’s highest court to overturn his sentence, arguing that the trial judge’s comments to a reporter prior to sentencing created at least the appearance of bias against Druce.
At issue were comments that Dauphin County President Judge Joseph Kleinfelter made in an interview with The Associated Press after Druce pleaded guilty and before he was sentenced.
In the AP interview, Kleinfelter said he was puzzled by Druce’s insistence that he was not aware that he had hit a person on the night of the accident, calling it inconsistent with his guilty plea.
“The whole idea of a hit-and-run charge is it involves personal injury to a person,” the judge said. Druce’s lawyers said the comments betrayed the judge’s bias and that he should have recused himself.
Druce served less than two months of his sentence before he was freed on $600,000 bail.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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