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Man pleads in Nov. chase, cop dragging

Published January 29. 2014 05:00PM

A Lehigh County man, who dragged a state trooper across a parking lot before the officer was able to free himself, then led police on a high-speed chase that ended in a crash, pleaded guilty in Carbon County court on Tuesday afternoon and was immediately sentenced to a prison term.

Robert Joseph Burns III, 23, of Allentown, pleaded to one count each of aggravated assault, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, and two summary offenses of careless driving and exceeding the speed limit before President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II.

Nanovic immediately sentenced Burns to serve one day less one year to one day less two years in the county prison on the assault count. The prison term will be followed by one year of probation.

Nanovic rejected a request from defense counsel attorney John W. Hollawell for a sentence in the low end of the standard range of the state sentencing guidelines of nine months.

Nanovic told Burns that if it wasn't for the fact that the trooper dragged across the lot in the incident, Michael Sofranko, and the investigating Trooper Michael Borosh, signed off on a plea agreement for a county prison term, he would have sent him to a state prison for what occurred. Nanovic also noted that Sofranko was not injured in the incident.

Burns told Nanovic he had a drug addiction problem, got help for it, but then lapsed. He also admitted using heroin, marijuana, and prescribed oxycodone the day of the incident, which occurred on Nov. 2, 2013.

Burns' father told Nanovic he was keeping an eye on his son due to drug problems and was having him submit to urine tests at home which he said turned up clean over a period of several months. He said he never thought that his son would be involved in such an incident because of the negative test results he was getting.

According to court records, the incident started about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, when Trooper Sofranko observed Burns fail to stop and yield to oncoming traffic at a stop sign at the intersection of Canal Street and Route 209 in Franklin Township. Burns was making a left turn at the time. Sofranko initiated a traffic stop in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Bank branch.

At the stop Sofranko observed Burns to allegedly be under the influence of a controlled substance. He says in the affidavit that he also observed heroin, drug paraphernalia, and prescription pills in the vehicle.

Sofranko then asked Burns to get out of the vehicle. Burns refused despite being asked three separate times by the trooper. As Sofranko attempted to remove Burns from the vehicle the suspect started his vehicle and grabbed the wrist of Sofranko.

He then accelerated, traveling across the bank parking lot dragging the trooper with him, police said. Sofranko managed to pull away and free himself.

Burns fled at a high rate of speed traveling northbound on 209 in the left lane of travel. Sofranko got into his cruiser and pursued Burns. Sofranko claims he clocked Burns' vehicle going in excess of 100 mph in a 45 zone. He also observed Burns' vehicle traveling in the middle of the road.

Burns reportedly attempted to exit 209 onto the turnpike at the Mahoning Interchange. The affidavit says he failed to negotiate a right curve due to the excess speed he was traveling and went onto the east berm, where the car struck about 21 feet of guide rails, causing the vehicle to become airborne. Burns' vehicle then rolled counter-clockwise down an embankment coming to final rest facing southeast about 81 feet from the roadway.

Burns was injured and taken to the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township, for treatment.

Nanovic said the details of the incident were disturbing. He said the trooper could have been seriously injured. He added that the high speeds that Burns was traveling put many people in danger.

On the DUI charge Nanovic sentenced Burns to serve 72 hours to six months in jail, a fine of $2,500, and a one-year license suspension. The prison term runs concurrent with the assault charge. On the two summary offenses he was fined a total of $50.

Nanovic also ordered Burns to supply a DNA sample, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly when released from jail.

He was given credit for 87 days already spent in jail on the charges.

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