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Man pleads in crash that struck Amish buggy

By JOSH COTTON

jcotton@timesobserver.com

A Sugar Grove man has pleaded guilty to his role in a traffic crash where his vehicle demolished a buggy, seriously injured the driver and killed the horse.

Gary L. O’Donnell, 69, pleaded Thursday before President Judge Maureen Skerda. The plea was to charges including DUI, accident involving death or personal injury, which both carry 90-day mandatory minimum sentences, and three summary offenses.

The incident occurred near Dollar General in Sugar Grove in February 2021

“Due to the impact,” police say in the affidavit of probable cause, “the horse was killed and the buggy was demolished” while the van fled southbound without stopping. “The buggy was discovered to be legally equipped with rear lighting and an orange triangle.”

The affidavit states that the victim initially reported he wasn’t injured but agreed to go to the hospital, where it was discovered that the victim “had suffered broken vertebrae in his neck and a concussion.”

Two witnesses at the scene — who were driving in the opposite direction — reported to police they observed the buggy and “noticed the white van coming south at a high rate of speed.

“They stated as they got closer to the buggy they veered over to their right to give the southbound white van room to pass the buggy to its left. The witnesses stated the white van never slowed down or braked and just ran right into the back of it and continued on southbound without stopping.”

About 20 minutes later, state police in Starbrick received a call from O’Donnell’s girlfriend who reported that he was upset when he got home and told her he thought he hit an Amish buggy.

Police subsequently interviewed O’Donnell who appeared to be “reserved, drinking coffee and nervous,” according to the affidavit. Police asked him what happened and he told police “I hit a buggy. I’m not quite sure. It was dark. I was on my way home and it was dark. I didn’t know if I hit a deer or what happened. I didn’t stop. It was right down the road so I just came right to my house.”

Police identified this incident as O’Donnell’s eighth DUI offense.

In exchange for the plea, charges including aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, two counts of DUI, accident involving damage to attended vehicle, accident involving death or personal injury and three traffic violations were not prosecuted.

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