Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Driver's Ed

Driver’s Ed, Part I. Is it just me, or is crashing cars into buildings a trendy new thing? It’s been quite a while since I first took the test to get my driver’s license, but I’m pretty sure back in the 80’s the DMV didn’t feel obligated to point out explicitly that one should avoid running into buildings with one’s car. Maybe they should start including that as a test question, though, because over several weeks this past summer, and then again in December, LP has been home to four such crashes, and I’ve seen a few more on the local news around the wider area.

First, on June 21, a car crashed into the side of the Sunoco/Mini Mart at 3201 West Ridge Pike (at the intersection with Mt. Kirk). Reports indicate that the driver was parking their car, when their dog jumped into the front seat, hit the gear shift lever into ‘drive’ and then the driver, attempting to stop the car, hit the gas instead of the brakes.

Second, around 5:30 pm on June 26, 2017 a truck crashed into the home of the Wheelers on Woodland Avenue. The home, at the juncture of the ‘T’ intersection of Clearfield and Woodland, sustained some damage although it was still habitable. In that incident, officials still aren’t sure what the cause was, although mechanical issues and careless driving have been ruled out. The cause is potentially medical, but confirmation of that may never be received. 

Third, on July 9, someone crashed into the Dunkin’ Donuts at the intersection of Trooper Road and Egypt Road shortly after midnight. I’m told it was the result of a domestic argument. The facility was repaired and reopened in September.

Then, to finish out the year, on December 22, 2017, the Friday just before Christmas a car crashed into the Collegeville Italian Bakery on Ridge Pike, practically turning it into a drive-through at the busiest time of year.  The building sustained significant damage to the pizzeria section of the restaurant, but no one was hurt and they were able to have it repaired within a month later and reopened as of January 21.

Let's be careful out there, folks! So far, no serious injuries or fatalities, but it's only a matter of time until something tragic happens. 

Driver’s Ed, Part II

In the Déjà vu Department (there was a similar incident with a prior school board member a few years ago), back on September 30, 2017, a Methacton school board director, identified in court records as Michael Ryan of Audubon, was arrested and charged with ‘public drunkenness’ stemming from an incident that occurred outside the Audubon Ale House.

Reportedly Ryan, elected in 2015 as a member of the CARE team of candidates (Community Advocates for Responsible Education), was allegedly found asleep, intoxicated, inside his car and identified himself as being on the Methacton school board to the arresting officer. He was charged with public drunkenness in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5505, which prohibits a person from being in any "public place manifestly under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance ... to the degree that he may endanger himself or other persons or property, or annoy persons in his vicinity."

Ryan had a hearing in district court on January 10 (continued from a November date) and reportedly was ordered to perform 24 hours’ worth of community service. Another hearing is scheduled for March 28, at which time I understand his charges may be dismissed if he completes said community service. It’s not clear whether or not he actually wound up pleading guilty to anything, although some reports of comments Ryan has made on the record at school board meetings would seem to indicate that he in fact considered himself guilty despite an initial ‘not guilty’ plea. In reaching out to the district court office for clarification of the docket details, I was referred to the arresting officer, who has yet to return my call.

According to people in the courtroom at the time, Ryan was told by the judge that he 'might want to drink less' or 'call an Uber' next time. 

At least Ryan didn’t try to claim it never happened, and blame anonymous internet bad guys for completely inventing the story (as did the former school board director who found herself in a similar situation, albeit in another state). At the end of the day, she resigned; as in that instance, Ryan should probably also consider resigning from the school board. Those responsible for educating our kids and  elected to be in charge of an annual budget exceeding $100,000  are supposed to be serving as good examples to them, and should be held to a higher standard and demonstrate that they can exercise better judgment while in office.

I’ve heard some people ask why, if he was found in his car, he wasn’t charged with DUI instead of public drunkenness  -  that’s a question for the arresting officer. We don’t know the entirety of the fact pattern, and clearly, the arresting officer has discretion at the scene to determine how they want to handle a given incident.  There are numerous pieces of criteria that go into determining whether a driver has ‘control’ of the vehicle and intent to drive and thus whether it rises to the level of DUI. 

By most accounts Ryan is a hard worker on the Board, and I'm sure the pressure of being a school director is substantial, but let's hope this is the last time a Methacton school director finds him/herself in the crosshairs of the law. 

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