Drunk driver who injured trooper sent to state prison

A Glen Mills woman was sentenced to 14 to 28 months in jail for crash on U.S. 1

By Kathleen Brady SheaManaging Editor, The Times

A drunk driver slammed into the side of Trooper Chad Burgwald’s police cruiser on U.S. 1 on Dec. 29.

A drunk-driver struck the driver’s side of Trooper Chad Burgwald’s state patrol cruiser as he was parked in the middle of the U.S. 1 median to monitor traffic on Dec. 29.

The crime sent shock waves through the Avondale state police barracks on Dec. 29: A drunk-driver had slammed into the patrol vehicle of a trooper who had been monitoring traffic on the grassy median of U.S. 1 in New Garden Township.

From the beginning, Heather DeLong, 47, of Glen Mills, admitted driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.199 – more than twice the legal limit . She waived her preliminary hearing, entered a guilty plea in June, and this morning learned her punishment: 14 to 28 months in state prison followed by seven years’ probation.

“I’m very happy with the sentence,” said Trooper Chad Burgwald, 25, who is still recovering from internal injuries and fractures to his pelvis and shoulder.  “I feel justice was served.”

After hearing testimony that included statements from Burgwald, his parents, his police supervisor, DeLong, and her husband, Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree II concluded that a sentence in the aggravated range of the sentencing guidelines was warranted.

Defense attorney Stephen J. Schukraft had argued that DeLong, who has spent eight months in county prison, accepted responsibility and showed remorse. He urged the judge to parole her into a residential treatment facility. A tearful DeLong told Burgwald she was “truly and deeply sorry,” adding “it won’t happen again.”

But Assistant District Attorney Priya T. De Souza countered that the conduct of DeLong, who had a previous drunken-driving conviction in Delaware in July 2001, was too egregious for a lesser penalty. “The defendant was not just a little intoxicated, she was dead drunk in the middle of the day,“ De Souza wrote in her sentencing memorandum.

According to court records, DeLong attended a baby shower and was also celebrating her birthday the night of Dec. 28,  festivities that extended into the next morning.  After getting some sleep, she drank more wine and got behind the wheel of her gold Chrysler Pacifica SUV.

About 1 p.m., DeLong was headed north on U.S. 1, north of Bancroft Road, when she lost control of her vehicle, left the roadway, traveled into the median, and smashed  into the driver’s side of Burgwald’s cruiser. Police found two wine bottles in the SUV, one unopened and one nearly empty, records said.

In a courtroom packed with supporters for both sides, Burgwald recalled hearing the screeching tires before impact. “As the Fire Department was attempting to cut me out of the car, I can remember the pain getting so bad that I was ready to just close my eyes and die,” he said.

Representing a contingent of nearly 20 troopers who attended the hearing, Burgwald’s supervisor, Cpl. Mark Perloff, said the accident rocked the barracks, which had not recovered from a similar tragedy on March 28, 2008, that claimed the life of Trooper Kenton Iwaniec, 24, another enthusiastic new recruit.

Perloff said he has experienced his share of trauma, but nothing prepared him for seeing Burgwald pinned in his cruiser “with the look of absolute fear on his face.” Emotions at the barracks ran the gamut from anger, rage and tears to disbelief  to “please, not again,” Perloff said.

Schukraft said he planned to file a motion for reconsideration of the sentence. He said by the time DeLong is transferred to the state system , processed, and assigned to a facility, where she will be required to spend at least six months, the sentence will exceed the 14 months the judge ordered.

Burgwald, flanked by his parents after the hearing, said he feels fortunate to be alive. His mother, Kim Burgwald, said Iwaniec’s mother called after the accident to offer support since the circumstances were chillingly similar. “When I think of that family, my heart breaks,” she said.

Chad Burgwald said he is doing everything in his power to return to his job. “I just want to get back to work,” he said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

“We’re very proud of him,” said his father, Bill Burgwald. His wife nodded in agreement.

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