July 24-30, 2003
Folks who claim that politicians, the original old-boys network, stick together no matter what should hear what State Reps. LeAnna Washington and Harold James are saying about Thomas Druce.
Druce, you'll recall, was the up-and-coming state representative and Republican firebrand who ran into a bit of trouble late on July 27, 1999 when he ran into pedestrian Kenneth Cains on a Harrisburg street. Cains, a down-on-his-luck Marine Corps veteran, was killed instantly from the impact with Druce's taxpayer-leased Jeep Cherokee.
Ever concerned about the man on the street, Druce immediately drove the vehicle to Malcolm's Auto Repair & Body Shop in Warrington, just outside Philly, and paid the $3,000 repair bill out of his own pocket. He then turned the Jeep in before the lease was up. After receiving his new vehicle Druce went on his merry way, presumably without another thought to the crumpled body of Kenneth Cains, until an anonymous tipster sent police investigators a Christmas card months later implicating Druce as the hit-and-run perpetrator.
Telling police he thought he hit a sign, and then claiming to his insurance company that he hit a barrel on the turnpike, Druce weaseled as long as he could until investigators found the Jeep's bumper, still at Malcolm's shop, still crusted with Cains' hair, blood, and clothing. Druce then struck a deal with prosecutors: He'd plead guilty to evidence tampering, insurance fraud and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the most serious charge, vehicular homicide. Dauphin County Judge Joseph Kleinfelter subsequently sentenced him to two to four years in prison, which normally would be the end of the story. It's not.
After serving less than two months, Druce is free on $600,000 bail. While he has to wear an ankle monitor, at least he's back home with his family in Bucks County as he appeals the sentence. To help pass the time, he's also working as a political consultant, shuttling between home and his office in Harrisburg. (As an interesting aside, just last month Druce was issued a speeding ticket during his commute by Susquehanna Township police who clocked him doing 57 in a 40-mph zone. Yes, God help us, Druce still has his license.)
But it's Druce's continued presence in the State Capitol building, and the arrogance of his actions since the accident that has LeAnna Washington and Harold James riled.
"Why in the world is this man getting special treatment?" hisses Washington. "I see him all the time, strutting around the Capitol like he owns the place. I mean, what a pompous ass. He killed somebody and tried to cover it up. Where's all that Republican talk about personal responsibility? He's a cowardly piece of garbage, and I'll continue to do everything I can to bring attention to this case."
If the roles of Druce, who is white, and the late Mr. Cains, an African American, had been reversed, Washington asserts we wouldn't be talking about it now.
"You run down a white man, then cover it up for months, and see what happens to you," she says. "I know what would happen if I did it. I wouldn't be at home with some ankle bracelet, I can tell you that."
Insult was added to injury in May, when Druce's lawyers went before the State Supreme Court to argue that Kleinfelter should have recused himself from the sentencing phase of the trial because comments the judge made to an Associated Press reporter indicated judicial bias. (Kleinfelter told the reporter he was angered by Druce's continued insistence that he didn't know he hit a person that night, even after pleading guilty.)
"The whole idea of a hit-and-run charge is that it involves personal injury to a person," Kleinfelter was quoted as saying. That Druce's lawyers would ask the Supreme Court to throw out the sentence based on Kleinfelter's statement really sticks in Harold James' craw.
"If the court decides to give him credit toward his prison sentence for his time under home confinement," James says with tongue firmly planted in cheek, "I know of a great many other inmates who could benefit from a similar arrangement, and we could also save the taxpayers some money."
James points out another piece of irony. As a legislator, Druce voted for the bill that called for minimum jail time for fatal hit-and-runs.
"It's time to bring attention to the inherent unfairness of our criminal justice system," says James. "I'm not saying that black people convicted of similar crimes should be released, I'm saying that Tom Druce should be in the cell next to theirs. If you do the crime, you should do the time. There's no exemption for politicians. Well, there shouldn't be anyway."
Right now, Washington says, they're in wait-and-see mode. Waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if Kleinfelter was wrong, and seeing to it that justice is done.
"I am disgusted by Tom Druce's continued failure to take responsibility for his actions," says Washington. "There are about 40,000 people in Pennsylvania prisons right now, and we're going to see to it that Tom Druce makes it 40,001."
Daryl Gales weekly radio show, Dialogues, with co-hosts Rotan Lee and Bill Miller, is burning up the airwaves Fridays 7-10 a.m. on WURD (900 AM) in Philadelphia.