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State College Man Charged in Fatal Hit-and-Run Crash in Penns Valley

by on September 10, 2020 3:43 PM

After a monthslong investigation, a State College man has been charged in connection with an April hit-and-run crash that left a Penn Township man dead.

Christopher C. Hort, 53, was charged on Thursday with one felony count of accidents involving death or personal injury.

According to state police at Rockview, 23-year-old John David King was wearing reflective clothing and operating a non-motorized scooter as he returned home from getting groceries when he was struck by a 2012 Honda Pilot the night of April 17 along Route 45 near Paradise Road. The driver fled the scene, police said.

King was pronounced dead at the scene and the Centre County Coroner's Office ruled his cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head.

On April 21, attorney Anthony DeBoef contacted Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna and said that his client, Hort, was involved in a crash on Route 45 around the same night as King's death but believed he hit a deer.

Hort told police during an interview that he believed he had side-swiped a deer with his Honda Pilot on his way home from fishing at Elk Creek and Pine Creek but did not stop because he feared one of his tires might deflate, according to the complaint. He allegedly also said that another reason he did not stop was because of a lack of cell phone coverage.

Police said a search of Hort's cell phone information found he made at least six calls between 8:28 p.m. and 9:14 p.m. and that geolocation information "placed Hort's phone in close proximity to the scene of the victim's death at 8:29 p.m."

Hort also told police that he did not learn of King's death until he saw a news account on the night of April 18, according to the complaint.

Hort's Internet browser history, however, allegedly showed that early in the morning on April 18 he searched out a news article about the hit-and-run, as well as a report about the crash on the state police website.

According to the complaint, Hort's Pilot had heavy impact damage to its front end. During processing, investigators found the passenger side from the front of the windshield to the roof rack appeared to have been wiped clean. 

"It is believed that this area is where the victim struck his head and rolled up and across the vehicle, depositing physical evidence after being struck," police wrote. "The injuries to the victim are consistent to the damage observed on Hort's Honda Pilot."

A contusion found on King during the autopsy allegedly matched the shape of a hood bracket on Hort's Pilot.

Paint found on the underside of Hort's vehicle was consistent the color and composition of paint from King's scooter, police wrote. A piece of paint found in King's hair, meanwhile, was consistent with paint from Hort's Pilot, according to the complaint.

"Despite extraordinary damage to Hort's vehicle, Hort failed, by his own admission, to stop at the scene of this collision as required by law," police wrote. "Hort's consciousness of guilt is apparent in his acts of accessing news and social media accounts of the hit-and-run during the very early morning hours of 4/18/20, which contradict his statement to investigators about when he first learned of the victim's death; concealing the Honda Pilot in his garage; and wiping down the window and roof of the Honda Pilot where the victim would have struck the vehicle."

Hort was arraigned before District Judge Thomas Jordan and released on $50,000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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