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March 28, 2013

Police union slams plea deal for ATV driver

SOMERSET — A Windber man is scheduled to be sentenced in May for running down a police officer with his ATV more than two years ago.

Brett R. Marsh, 35, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person in Somerset County court earlier this month.

A plea agreement enabled Marsh to avoid trial on several other charges, including felony aggravated assault.

The plea deal was sharply criticized Thursday by the Teamsters union counsel representing the officer injured in the November 2010 incident.

The union’s attorney, Robert A. Eberle, said the county district attorney’s office did not seek the patrolman’s input on the deal or inform him it was crafted until the deal was already finalized.

Police said Officer John Rice was responding to a call in the 900 block of 19th Street and was standing on a path when the ATV appeared, “turned a little” and then accelerated at him.

Rice told a judge in 2011 that he pointed a flashlight at Marsh and yelled “Stop, police.”

But the ATV rider continued on, running over Rice and then fleeing despite a property owner’s attempts to stop him, police said.

Prosecutors called the act intentional at a preliminary hearing in March 2011 at which a charge of attempted homicide was tossed out by District Judge Joseph Cannoni of Windber.

Defense attorney Thomas Dickey argued that because of the path’s slope, Marsh did not see the officer until it was too late and was unable to avoid hitting the man.

The case has been in county court for two years.

For much of that time, Rice was recovering from multiple injuries, surgeries and therapy.

“Rice has the scars to show some of the costs he paid for simply attempting to do his job,” Eberle said, indicating the officer wanted to see a “tough stance” in court.

In a release to county officials and the media, Eberle indicated Rice and was blindsided by the plea agreement and has not been told why the deal was permitted.

District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser did not return messages left by The Tribune-Democrat for comment Thursday.

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