WILKES-BARRE — A wanted man who led police on a wild chase last summer pleaded guilty Tuesday in Luzerne County Court.
Zireek Rahim Gardner, 23, of Nanticoke, was facing a jury trial when he admitted to one count each of reckless endangerment, flight to avoid apprehension, accidents involving death or injury (not properly licensed) and resisting arrest.
On Aug. 10, Gardner commandeered a friend’s car and, unfazed by the jolt of a police Taser, crashed the vehicle into a truck and then ran, leaving an injured man inside the crumpled Ford Taurus as he fled, according to a police affidavit.
Gardner was a passenger in a car that was pulled over by Newport Township Police Chief Jeremy M. Blank after the driver allegedly drove through an emergency response area on West Kirmar Parkway at about 4:40 a.m., ignoring flares and a police officer’s order to stop.
Gardner gave a fake name, Blank said, and later locked the rear door and was climbing toward the driver’s seat. Blank said he was able to reach in and strike Gardner with a Taser, but Gardner managed to put the car into gear and drive away, toward an area filled with emergency personnel and utility crews due to an earlier crash.
With Blank in pursuit, Gardner drove west “at a high rate of speed,” crashing into the back of a parked utility truck about a quarter mile away, wedging the Ford Taurus beneath the truck, according to an affidavit. As Blank pulled up, Gardner climbed out of the driver’s side window and ran. He was captured a short time later after falling over a guard rail.
A front-seat passenger, David Johnson Jr., was pinned in the wrecked Taurus and had to be extricated. He was treated at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Township, for injuries including a broken palate. The utility truck driver, Larry Zoscin, was treated at Geisinger for neck and back pain.
“Gardner stated that he ran because he was wanted by parole,” Blank wrote, adding that a records search confirmed this, although the nature of the alleged parole violation was not indicated.
Gardner pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2009 in connection with the death of William Bentley, who suffered a heart attack after Gardner punched him in the head during a fight outside Schiel’s Family Market in March of that year.
Gardner must pay more than $4,800 in restitution to various parties. He was to be remanded to SCI-Dallas pending sentencing before county Judge Michael Vough on July 11.
WILKES-BARRE — A lien was filed Tuesday in Luzerne County Court in an effort to collect a $250,100 penalty handed down against developer Robert Mericle at his federal sentencing last month, but Mericle’s attorney said the penalty was paid days earlier.
U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik imposed a $250,000 fine and a $100 assessment fee on April 25, the day he sentenced Mericle to spend a year in federal prison for withholding information on a crime.
But on Tuesday night, Kim Borland, Mericle’s attorney, emailed The Times Leader a copy of the $250,000 check to U.S. District Court signed by Mericle and dated May 2, as well as copies of receipts from the court showing that the payment had been received by the court on May 2.
Federal prosecutors accused Mericle of helping then-Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan conceal the source of more than $2 million in “finder’s fees” paid to them by Mericle and attorney Robert Powell in connection with the construction of two juvenile detention centers built by Mericle’s company.
Mericle, 51, was the final major player in the “Kids for Cash” scandal to be sentenced. He is scheduled to report to a federal detention center on June 2.
WILKES-BARRE — Child molester Jose Antonio Ramos will appeal a prison sentenced handed down in Luzerne County Court to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
Ramos, 70, has been ordered to spend six to 20 years in state prison for failing to register an address under Megan’s Law before leaving SCI Dallas in 2012 at the end of a lengthy state prison sentence for a western Pennsylvania molestation case. He was convicted of failing to register after a January jury trial and sentenced on April 24 by county Judge David W. Lupas.
Barely 24 hours after his sentence was handed down, Ramos’ attorney filed a motion seeking reconsideration of his sentence. Lupas denied the motion on April 30, and attorney John Hakim, in his capacity as conflict counsel, filed a notice of appeal on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Lupas signed an order replacing Hakim with attorney Matt Kelly.
Ramos has 21 days to file with Lupas’ court a statement identifying each ruling or error he intends to challenge, to which the prosecution must then respond.