A Centre County judge chose Tuesday the lowest minimum jail sentence outlined in a plea agreement for a State College driver who left an Amish man for dead along the shoulder of a rural Penns Valley road.
Christopher Hort, 54, was sentenced by county Judge Brian Marshall to at least 363 days in the Centre County Correctional Facility. His maximum sentence is three years.
Hort was charged in the April 2020 death of John David King, a 23-year-old roofer from Spring Mills who was engaged to be married some seven months later.
Hort — who is the son-in-law of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and his wife, Sue — was driving a 2012 Honda Pilot when he hit King along state Route 45 in Penn Township.
King was wearing a reflective vest and headlamp when he was hit. A red reflector was attached to the rear of his manually-powered scooter.
Hort continued toward his home without stopping, telling state police at Rockview investigators he thought he hit a deer and feared one of his tires would deflate.
Lloyd M. King, John’s father, said Hort visited the family about a week and a half before Tuesday’s hearing and reiterated what he told police.
The meeting, King’s father said, left the family with an overarching question. “Where’s the truth?” he wondered aloud.
“I understand accidents happen, but I have a problem with the way it went after the accident,” King said. “He left the scene, just left him lay there like a worthless animal.”
He added: “We want to serve God because he is the truth. Satan is the father of lies. People that follow him are like his children. There’s only two ways. That’s the part that really bothers me.”
The SUV was heavily damaged in the crash. The windshield was broken and the hood buckled from the passenger’s side to the driver’s side.
Hort made a handful of phone calls after crash, police wrote in an affidavit of probable cause. All were deleted, but later recovered during the investigation. Investigators also said Hort cleaned the vehicle and concealed it in his garage.
He was not accused of speeding or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“It was an accident,” defense lawyer Tony De Boef told Marshall before the sentence was announced. “... He’d led 54 years of his life without being in front of the court. He’s here today to accept responsibility.”
A half-dozen of King’s family and friends attended the hearing. His mother, Naomi E. King, did not speak.
His employer, Jonathan Fisher, described him as a “great friend and a great employee.” Abe King, one of John’s eight siblings, said he and his brother each planned to get married two weeks apart in November 2020.
“We hope that God starts to still forgive him, but it would be nice to know the truth,” he said.
Sylvester Gallagher, a family friend who briefly worked alongside John, asked Marshall to impose a sentence that showed “the value of the life that was lost.”
“It’s not about the inconvenience or the hardship that Mr. Hort will face from here on out. It’s trying to put some value in the life that was lost,” Gallagher said. “Though forgiveness is wanted by them as a family and from any of us, it does not make somebody exempt from punishment.”
Three police officers also attended the hearing. One shook his head after Marshall announced the sentence.
Hort pleaded guilty in March to one felony count of accidents involving death. The plea agreement allowed Marshall to sentence him to at least two years in jail, with a maximum of four years.
The state’s sentencing guidelines — advisory recommendations designed to help judges hand down more uniform punishments — called for upward of nine months in jail. Three months could be added for aggravating circumstances.
Hort, who remains employed by Penn State as a facilities manager in the College of the Liberal Arts, said little during the hearing. He spoke for about 10 seconds, offering an apology to King’s family and friends.
He left the Centre County Courthouse Annex in handcuffs, covered by a jacket draped over his hands. He was taken to the county jail to spend much of the next year, while King’s family contemplates how to move forward.
“For me to move on, I just need to accept the fact that our life has changed drastically,” King’s father said. “My wish is that Mr. Hort could repent from his evil deeds and find light in Jesus.”