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Slatington man sent to state prison in fatal pedestrian crash in Palmerton

A Slatington man who previously admitted to striking and killing a Palmerton man while he was attempting to cross a street was sentenced to a state prison term following an emotional sentencing proceeding on Friday.

Judge Joseph J. Matika sentenced Joseph McCoy, 26, to serve one to four years in a state correctional institution on a charge of involuntary manslaughter and 72 hours to six months in jail on a charge of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The jail terms run concurrently. Both are misdemeanor counts.

In exchange for the pleas, the district attorney’s office dropped a felony 2 count of homicide by vehicle while DUI and a felony 3 count of homicide by vehicle. He was arrested for an incident on Feb. 12, 2018.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Detective Kevin Buck of the Palmerton police, the incident occurred in the 200 block of Delaware Avenue in the morning.

Buck responded to the scene and met officer Shawn Leadbetter, who saw Clair Fatzinger, 81, of Lower Towamensing Township, unconscious and with severe trauma to his head and neck area. Fatzinger later died of his injuries.

Leadbetter said the vehicle that hit him, a 2018 Subaru Impreza, driven by McCoy, was parked down the road.

McCoy told police he saw Fatzinger between two vehicles on the south side of the roadway.

McCoy said Fatzinger ran out in front of his vehicle and he didn’t have time to stop. Leadbetter said that as he spoke with McCoy, he noticed that he had red eyes, which prompted him to ask if he was on anything. McCoy admitted to smoking marijuana the previous evening.

Leadbetter then transported McCoy to St. Luke’s Palmerton Campus for a legal blood draw and then to the borough police department, where he was provided his Miranda warnings, which he signed and waived for an interview.

McCoy said he was on his way to work, traveling at around 35 mph, and saw a pedestrian between two parked cars peek his head out.

McCoy said he then stepped on his brakes and hit his horn, at which time Fatzinger went back in between the cars until he was about to pass by, and that Fatzinger ran out in front of the car.

Through reconstruction, it was found that Fatzinger had actually been crossing from the opposite side of the street and was never between two parked cars, nor was he anywhere that McCoy had placed him. Further, it was discovered that McCoy had just completed a phone call at around the same time he struck Fatzinger.

Family members

A family member read letters written by Fatzinger’s family which told of the emotional effect his death has caused the family. The letters spoke of how it has forever affected them and asked the court to impose the maximum prison term allowed by law.

McCoy apologized to the Fatzinger family and said the incident has affected his life.

He said, “I cannot express the remorse I have for the family.”

He said he still can’t sleep at night. Several members of his family also spoke on his behalf as character witnesses.

Attorney Gary N. Asteak said, “but for a moment distraction” the tragedy would not have happened. He said McCoy never intended to kill anyone that morning. He said a presentence investigation report indicated that McCoy was at the lowest level to be a repeat offender.

He asked the court to exercise mercy.

Assistant District Attorney Brian B. Gazo, who prosecuted the case, said McCoy should be sentenced to a state prison term. He said he got a break when the commonwealth agreed to drop the felony counts in a plea bargain.

Matika said such cases are the most difficult for a court. He said two families are forever affected by what happened and no matter what sentence he imposes, it will not satisfy anyone.

He said a state prison term was warranted.

“Nothing I do or say will bring Mr. Fatzsinger back,” Matika said, adding there is punishment that must be imposed.

In addition to the prison term, Matika ordered McCoy to get a mental health evaluation and follow any recommendation for treatment, supply a DNA sample, render 100 hours of community service when paroled, pay a fine of $1,000 and one year license suspension for the DUI, and pay court costs of about $1,000. Asteak’s request to make McCoy eligible for the state boot camp program was granted, but the department of corrections has final say on his eligibility.

Asteak’s request to delay the start of the sentence until Sept. 14 was opposed by Gazo and denied by Matika.

Matika said the Fatzinger family needs some closure and McCoy knew when he entered his plea that he faced a prison term. McCoy was then remanded to the custody of sheriff deputies to begin the jail term immediately.