Misdemeanor conviction for Delco ADA in hit-and-run

Posted: November 20, 2012

A former Delaware County assistant district attorney was convicted Monday of leaving the scene of an accident -- a misdemeanor -- after a jury failed to find that the injured teen, hospitalized for six days, had suffered serious bodily injury.

Michael Donohue, 32, now of Philadelphia, already was acquitted of the most serious charges on Friday in the November 2011 crash, but still could be sent to jail for up to 90 days when he is sentenced on Dec. 20.

Donohue was out drinking with co-workers the night of the crash and was on his cellphone when his Jeep Cherokee struck Jake Vantrieste, then 14, at 10:23 p.m. along Township Line Road, a busy route through Upper Darby.

The teen was rushed to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia suffering from bleeding on the brain, a fractured pelvis and broken leg. He missed three months of school.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated more than four hours before coming to a conclusion.

"This defendant reeks of dishonor, cowardice and shameful behavior," said prosecutor Joseph McGettigan after the verdict. He said he was at a loss to explain the jury's decision to find that Vantrieste did not suffer a serious bodily injury.

McGettigan asked that Donohue be remanded to the county jail until his Dec. 20 sentencing.

When Donohue heard Judge John L. Braxton raise his bail to $100,000 cash over the objections of defense attorney Mark Much, he took off his ring, emptied his pockets and put his cell phone on the table. He was then led away in handcuffs by sheriffs.

The case had several twists and turns.

Donohue did not turn himself in until days after the crash, and a forensic toxicologist, a key witness for the prosecution, was not allowed to testify to blood alcohol level of someone who had Donohue's build who had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol.

A former waitress at the bar testified that Donohue ran up a bar tab of $120 that night. None of the witnesses, however, including eight former or current members of the district attorney's office who were at the bar, testified that Donohue appeared impaired.

After the prosecution rested its case, Judge John L. Braxton acquitted Donohue of the more serious charges including aggravated assault and driving under the influence. A simple assault charge was later dropped which left Donohue facing only leaving the scene of the accident and more minor charges.

In closing arguments on Monday, defense attorney Mark Much noted that the prosecution had not called a trauma doctor as a witness to prove Vantrieste had serious bodily injury. Instead, the prosecution relied on the testimony of the victim and his mother who both had an interest in the outcome of the case, he said.

After the verdict was announced, Vantrieste said he thought their conclusion was "wrong." The defendant knew the laws and should have followed them, he said.

"If you are going to hit some kid, run," said Vantrieste when asked what he learned from the experience. "You'll get away with it."

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, mschaefer@phillynews.com or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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