Judge Scolds DUI Driver in Car-Crash Murder for “Reprehensible” Relief Request

Less than a year after admitting to causing a fatal crash while drunk and high on heroin, Thomas Gallagher Jr. requested a re-do in court, alleging he received poor legal advice.

A Lancaster County judge, in a 20-page denial of Gallagher’s appeal for relief from a 20-to-50-year prison sentence, writes that Gallagher caused further anguish to the family and friends of Meredith Demko, the 18-year-old, recent high school graduate killed in the 2014 crash.

Judge Donald Totaro, who accepted Gallagher’s guilty plea and ordered the negotiated sentence, ruled that Gallagher has no credible legal argument.

Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson, in response to Gallagher’s request, argued that Gallagher received appropriate legal advice from his attorney and has no basis for relief.

Judge Totaro concurred in his ruling.

Gallagher fully understood the ramifications of his April 2015 guilty plea and acted on sound legal advice, Totaro wrote in the opinion filed Tuesday.

Judge Totaro calls Gallagher’s appeal “frivolous,” noting that Gallagher potentially faced far more time than the sentence he received, had he gone to trial and been convicted of all counts.

“The Court finds it reprehensible that (Gallagher) would now present such a frivolous motion,” Totaro writes, “by suggesting he should receive a lesser sentence than that for which he bargained.”

Regarding the plea agreement, defense lawyer Cory Miller testified last month that Gallagher wanted the agreement, because they both had great concern over a judge’s sentence without an agreement in place.

After the plea hearing, Gallagher and Miller agreed there was no basis for appeal relief, Miller testified.

Judge Totaro found Miller’s testimony credible and his actions in the case appropriate.

Gallagher’s blood-alcohol level was between .21 and .26 percent at the time of the July 8, 2014 crash on Lampeter Road.

Gallagher, previously convicted of DUI and driving on a suspended license, was speeding and illegally passing vehicle priors to veering into opposing traffic, striking Demko’s vehicle head-on.

Regarding third-degree murder, Judge Totaro ruled that malice existed in the case, a requirement for conviction on such a charge.

Gallagher acted “maliciously,” Totaro wrote, ignoring the pleas of his passengers to stop, causing extremely high risk of death or serious bodily injury – which is precisely what happened.

West Lampeter police filed charges in the case.

(Harrisburg photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Senate Republican Communications Office.)

MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; bhambright@co.lancaster.pa.us; Twitter: @BrettHambright