The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 18, 2014

Driver to pay $269G, serve 7 years for wreck

Methadone-related crash left man a paraplegic

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — A South Fork woman who was drug impaired when the vehicle she was driving struck a motorcycle was sentenced to a maximum of seven years in state prison and ordered to pay more than a quarter million dollars in restitution.

Kelsey Tunstall, 26, was behind the wheel after earlier being at a methadone clinic on May 17, when the crash occurred on Palestine Road near the Route 219 overpass.

Adams Township police said she showed signs of significant impairment from methadone and Xanax.

Methadone is used to treat withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opiates such as heroin, and Xanax is used to treat anxiety disorders.

Motorcyclist Troy Jordan, 42, of the 700 block of Palestine Road in Salix, was paralyzed from the waist down and given no chance he would walk again.

Tunstall’s young daughter was in her vehicle at the time of the crash but was unharmed.

Jordan, a welder at Johnstown Welding, is unable to work. His wife is legally blind.

“I can’t drive, I don’t get behind the wheel. The kids (two daughters) don’t drive,” Debbie Jordan told Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry on Tuesday.

“We rely on others for everything.”

Troy Jordan told the court that he was first taken to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, then transferred to a spinal cord injury unit at a Pittsburgh hospital.

“I  was a proud man and I feel I’ve lost my dignity,” he said. “Mrs. Tunstall has taken that away and she shows no remorse.”

In a mumbled statement, Tunstall said she regrets her actions and did not intend to harm anyone.

Her sentence of 40 months to seven years, plus 12 months probation, is in the aggravated range of the state’s sentencing guidelines.

Tunstall’s lawyer, Brett J. Smith of the county public defenders office, felt the sentence was too stiff.

“She is trying to turn her life around. It’s not like she meant to hurt the guy,” Smith said after the sentencing. “It was the stiffest sentence (the judge) could give.”

Tunstall has been involved in a number of drug rehabilitation programs and has had an exemplary record while in prison, Smith said.

She has been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, he said.

Kiniry said Tunstall’s sentence is meant to send a message to others who get behind the wheel under the influence of methadone or an illegal drug.

“You really ended Troy’s life as he knew it,” Kiniry told Tunstall. “You drove under the influence of drugs with your baby as a passenger.

“A lesser sentence would diminish the importance of the sentence of aggravated assault under the influence of drugs.”

In addition to aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, Tunstall was sentenced on charges of DUI, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, receiving stolen property and drug charges.

Some of the charges stem from other incidents, including a September incident in which police said they caught her trying to sell a stolen engagement ring at The Galleria mall in Richland Township.

Kiniry ordered that the lion’s share of the restitution, set at $269,173, will go to pay for Jordan’s bills at the local and Pittsburgh hospitals, and $5,452 of that amount will go to Jordan.

Additional restitution claims are anticipated, Assistant District Attorney Gary Jubas said. Kiniry gave him 20 days to present the claims.

Tunstall also was ordered to pay $2,200 in fines and court costs.

Johnstown attorney Dennis Mc­Glynn, who is representing the Jordan family in the civil case, was in the courtroom and assisted them as they addressed the court.



Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.