Trooper charged in fatal DUI had just left memorial to a victim

Posted: June 26, 2012

The off-duty state trooper charged in the drunken-driving death of a Philadelphia woman May 18 had just left a golf outing in memory of another area drunken-driving victim, officials said Monday.

Trooper Barry M. Searfoss Jr. had attended a fund-raiser for the late singer Phebe Blessington at the Five Pines Golf Course in Warminster that day.

Unsteady from drinking beer, Searfoss steered his Toyota pickup into the westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 9:43 p.m., Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said.

Fifteen minutes later in Upper Dublin, his pickup rear-ended a Lincoln Town Car driven by Robin Taneisha Williams, 21, of Philadelphia. She died in a fiery explosion touched off by the crash, Ferman said.

"Her car had broken down on the turnpike and was on the way to a stop," Ferman said. "The way was straight, flat and clear, and he completely failed to maneuver around Miss Williams' car."

Williams was driving at 11 to 16 m.p.h., according to an affidavit of probable cause. He was moving about 71 to 76 m.p.h.

Armed with skid marks and evidence showing Searfoss' blood-alcohol level was 0.188, police on Monday charged Searfoss with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, careless driving, and related offenses.

He was released Monday on 10 percent of $50,000 cash bail for a preliminary hearing July 5 before a district judge in Ambler. As part of the bail agreement, Searfoss cannot drink alcohol or have any contact with witnesses to the accident.

Searfoss, 40, a gaming enforcement officer assigned to the Valley Forge Casino Resort with 11 years on the police force, had been placed on restricted duty after May 18, said State Police Maj. Huascar Rivera.

He was suspended without pay starting Monday, Rivera said. His attorney, Christian J. Hoey, could not be reached for comment, and no one answered the phone at the Searfoss home in Coatesville.

The death shone the spotlight on the memory of Blessington, a singer killed by a drunk driver in 1997 on the way to a concert, officials said.

The Hatboro resident performed with the duo Phebe & Brian and later with a club band called Slippery, according to the website phebe.org. She died at age 30.

"This senseless tragedy left those of us who remained, questioning why and how something like this could happen to such a wonderful person," her friends said on the website.

"While we may never know the answer to that question, time does works its healing powers, and her family and friends began looking for ways to continue her good work."

That effort blossomed into charitable work, including the May 18 Bump and Run Golf Event, the 11th such fund-raiser. Blessington's family could not be reached for comment.

First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele said Searfoss was cooperating with investigators. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison, officials said.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "MontCo Memo," on philly.com.

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