Driver of vehicle that crashed killing two Jim Thorpe students sent to prison
In an emotional proceeding Friday in Carbon County court a Jim Thorpe resident who was driving a vehicle that crashed and killed two Jim Thorpe School students was sentenced to a county prison term after the judge rejected pleas for no jail time or a probation period.
Judge Steven R. Serfass said because of the gravity of the incident and the seriousness of what happened, he felt a prison term was appropriate in sentencing Tegan Lestat Kane, 20, to three to one day less 24 months in prison, followed by one year of probation. The judge imposed the prison term on charges of aggravated assault by vehicle, two counts of involuntary manslaughter and the probation period on a charge of simple assault.
In a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office, two other counts of aggravated assault by vehicle and two counts each of homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter were dropped.
Serfass said it was a “very sad case” which has affected many lives. He added it was a very difficult case. He said considering the facts of the case in which two young people lost their lives and others were seriously injured, including the defendant’s brother, a state prison sentence could have been imposed. He concluded a period of incarceration would be imposed, but at the county level.
Kane was the driver of a vehicle in the crash along Route 903 in Penn Forest Township on Aug. 20, 2015. Jasmine Fonseca, 15, and Taylor Shepherdson, 16, both of the Towamensing Trails development in Albrightsville, were killed in the crash. The girls, who were pronounced dead at the scene, were members of the high school cheerleading squad.
Also injured was Kane’s brother Korben, who sustained a traumatic brain injury requiring constant care; and his cousin, Taylor Schmidt of Lehighton. Tegan Kane suffered minor injuries.
Kane, who was 18 at the time, was northbound operating a Chevrolet Uplander when his vehicle crossed into the other lane of travel and collided with a Buick Enclave driven by Verner Drohan, 76, with his wife, Gail, 72, a passenger, both of Fulton, New York. Verner Drohan suffered minor injuries but his wife suffered a number of broken bones in her hands, feet, sternum and one in her neck.
The girls were being driven home from cheerleading practice a few days before the start of the new school year.
The investigation of the crash by state police at Fern Ridge indicated there was heavy rain at the time. A state police reconstruction team was called in but did not release a report for about a year after the cash occurred. The investigation concluded that Kane was speeding at the time of the crash and that tires on his vehicle would not have passed state inspection.
Defense attorney Brett J. Riegel asked Serfass to impose a probation period, stating the wet road conditions contributed to the crash. He added, “A small lapse in judgment caused severe consequences.”
The mothers of the two victims also testified, asking the court to spare Kane a prison term. One mother told the court, “Never once did I blame Tegan for what happened.” She added, “I look into his eyes and all I see is the same emptiness I have in my eyes.”
The mother of one of the injured said, “There was no drugs, no alcohol involved.”
Kane told Serfass, “I really didn’t want to hurt anyone that night. I’m terribly sorry for hurting anyone that night, I really am.”
The New York couple who were injured in the crash told the court how the accident has affected their lives. Both have since recovered.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Gazo, who prosecuted the case, said it took a long time of deliberation, consulting with others in the DA’s office and considering all the facts before reaching a decision on the charges to be filed and eventually a plea bargain being offered. He said from day one the families of the two victims told him they didn’t want Kane punished, or at least not jail time.
Gazo said there has to be responsibility taken for what happened, adding the more serious charges of homicide by vehicle were dropped in the plea bargain, which spared a state sentence for Kane.
He added, it was a reckless act in which two people died and others were injured, some seriously, and that required some form of punishment.
In addition to the prison term and probation period, Serfass also ordered Kane to get both drug and alcohol and mental health evaluations and follow any recommendations for treatment, make restitution for medical bills suffered by the Drohans totaling $133,160.24, supply a DNA sample, pay court costs of about $1,000 and pay a $50 per month supervision fee while on parole and probation.
He was given credit for one day spent in jail on the charge. He began the jail term immediately.