WEST CHESTER -- The days that Jacob Potts has spent in drug and alcohol rehab since the February accident that claimed the life of his fiance will not be counted towards his eventual prison sentence for the fatal drunk driving crash, a judge said Wednesday.
Potts, 27, of Phoenixville, pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and a separate count of DUI in front of Judge Thomas Gavin. The homicide charge carries with it a minimum mandatory sentence of three to six years in state prison.
His sentence was deferred until completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the county Adult Probation Department.
Potts was driving on Charlestown Road shortly after midnight on Feb. 2 when he failed to negotiate a curve and crossed into the opposite lane, striking another car head-on. His fiance, 25-year-old Emily Hayes of Phoenixville, died later of injuries she suffered in the crash.
His attorney, Thomas Ramsay, told Gavin that Potts had been suffering from emotional trauma since the accident and had also sought treatment for substance abuse. Since completing an in-patient program, he has been living at a halfway house in Lehigh County, Ramsay said.
But in an exchange between Ramsay
and Gavin, the judge confirmed that he would not allow the time that Potts had spent in those facilities to be deducted from his ultimate sentence. Gavin said it is his long-standing policy not to grant such requests, known in legal circles as "Conaghan Credit." Other judges in the county and in surrounding jurisdictions do allow defendants to get credit for their time in rehab, since they are effectively in a restricted environment similar to prison.
"At the bare minimum, you are looking at three years in prison," Gavin told Potts at the brief hearing.
According to Assistant District Attorney Carlos Barraza, who is handling the case, the prosecution will seek a sentence of more than the minimum three years because Potts has a prior DUI arrest and conviction on his record.
According to police and court records, the accident that occurred around 12:18 a.m. Feb. 2, as Potts and Hayes were traveling south on Charlestown Road just past Markley Lane.
Although his speed was later determined to be only 37 mph, Potts lost control of the red 1993 Saturn S12 as he drove through a curve in the road. He crossed the centerline of traffic and struck a BMW driven by William Gleason III, 47, of Kimberton, head-on.
Barraza said that Hayes suffered severe head trauma and was pronounced dead the next afternoon after being airlifted to Albert Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia. She was a graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School and Messiah College and worked as a nurse at the Phoenixville Hospital.
A state police officer at the scene said that Potts smelled of alcohol and had glassy eyes and slurred speech at the time. He was taken to Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, for severe injuries, and blood was drawn for testing. His blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was estimated at .124, Barraza told Gavin.
Gleason and his passenger were not seriously hurt.
In entering the guilty plea, Potts said he believed that the road he was driving on at the time was wet and icy and that those conditions contributed to his loss of control of the car.
However, both Ramsay and Barraza said that a state police reconstruction of the accident showed that the road was dry, and that Potts' failure to hold the car in his lane was due to his being incapable of safe driving.
Later Wednesday, Ramsay informed Gavin that Potts was checking himself out of the halfway house facility in Lehigh and would report to Chester County Prison on Friday so he could begin getting credit for the time in jail he can weigh against his total sentence.
Members of his family joined Potts in the courtroom. Barraza said Hayes' family had let him know that they would be present for Potts' sentencing, which is set for September.