Tuesday, August 19, 2014
LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) — One of four young men charged with throwing a rock onto a darkened central Pennsylvania interstate testified Tuesday that they intended to do some damage during a night of mayhem last month but did not anticipate their actions would cause severe injuries to an Ohio teacher.
Keefer McGee took the stand against co-defendant Brett Lahr after McGee and the other two waived their right to a preliminary hearing. The judge determined there was enough evidence to send the case against Lahr to county court for trial.
McGee said the two others — Dylan Lahr and Tyler Porter — jumped out of his car after he stopped at an overpass on Interstate 80 on July 10, armed with rocks they had collected earlier.
"I knew they were going to throw rocks, but never thought they were going to hurt anyone as they did it," McGee said.
A 4.6-pound rock smashed through the front windshield of a car passing below, landing directly on the head of Sharon Budd, a middle school language arts teacher from Uniontown, Ohio, on her way to see a show in New York.
Budd, a passenger in the vehicle driven by her daughter, suffered massive head injuries and is recovering in a rehabilitation center, with another surgery planned for the coming weeks.
Union County District Attorney Peter Johnson said McGee agreed to cooperate in exchange for lesser charges and a sentence of less than two years that would send him to the county jail rather than state prison.
McGee, 17, said he, Porter, 18, and Dylan Lahr, 17, stole steaks from a grocery store and played video games before deciding to "smash mailboxes, throw rocks at cars, just go out and be bad." Brett Lahr, 18, Dylan's brother, joined them after getting off work at a sandwich shop.
McGee said they first drove two vehicles through a corn field, causing what the farmer said was less than $100 in damage, and Dylan Lahr smashed windows in a home with a baseball bat before he stopped his vehicle on the overpass. In court records, Porter has been quoted as saying he dropped a rock but didn't hit anything, but Dylan Lahr struck a vehicle.
McGee testified that the rock made a "really loud crash" when it hit Budd's Nissan Rogue. He wiped away tears before recalling how they all laughed as they drove away.
"They weren't looking for a car to hit in particular," said McGee, who told the judge he had been involved in unspecified earlier rock-throwing incidents. "Like, they weren't waiting for one. They hit one as they saw it."
He drove them back to the Lahr home, where they began to watch a movie before deciding to return to the scene to see what happened — twice. During one of those trips, an alert police officer noted their license plate, leading investigators to the four.
Massachusetts truck driver Matthew Baker testified his rig also was struck around that time in that same area by something that damaged his bug shield and its metal frame. Baker, who was not injured, said he caught a glimpse of the object as it whizzed past.
Budd's husband, Randy Budd, who was in the backseat behind their daughter, recalled how the attack occurred shortly after Sharon got off the phone with their son, who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan with the military.
"It felt like an explosion," Randy Budd testified, calling her injuries the "most gruesome thing that I've ever seen."
"I'm pretty sure I was looking at brains and skull and she, remarkably, kind of came to but wasn't saying anything," he said. "She was just jerking, grabbing her head, so we were holding her hands down."
Emergency responders raced her to a hospital, where she underwent surgery that night. Doctors had to remove parts of her skull and brain, and she has lost the use of one eye, while the other was damaged. Her long-term prognosis is unclear.
The defendants face charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy, trespassing, propelling missiles into occupied vehicles, agricultural vandalism and reckless endangerment.
Brett Lahr's lawyer, Brian Manchester, argued that his client's actions did not meet the legal threshold necessary to show he was a co-conspirator or accomplice.
"There is no evidence that there was a conspiracy that Brett Lahr participated in to go out and throw rocks at moving vehicles," Manchester argued. "He's just somebody sitting in a vehicle. ... Mere presence is not enough."
Johnson said McGee's deal calls for a guilty plea to second-degree felony aggravated assault.