Defense attorney argues texting caused Angle's erratic driving
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Professional wrestling champion Kurt Angle must pay a $1,500 fine as a result of a conviction for reckless driving, Warren County General District Judge W. Dale Houff ruled Tuesday.
Houff imposed the fine after hearing defense attorney C. Todd Gilbert and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Fleming clash over the seriousness of Angle's offense.
Houff imposed the maximum fine of $2,500, but suspended $1,000. Fleming made no specific recommendation for a penalty, which could have included a jail sentence and driver's license suspension. He submitted records to the judge that he said showed the seriousness of the offense.
Fleming called Angle's behavior "quite egregious," but Gilbert argued the prosecution was taking an excessively harsh view of the incident because of his client's celebrity status.
"This is not a case that's as egregious as the commonwealth makes it out to be," Gilbert told Houff.
Gilbert revealed during the hearing that a mobile hand-held device on which Angle was text messaging was the source of the erratic driving that led to his arrest just after midnight Sept. 4 on Interstate 66 near Linden.
An initial charge of driving under the influence was amended to reckless driving in early October.
"We are left with what we are left with," Gilbert said. "Someone driving poorly because they were using their phone."
A report filed by state Trooper C.F. Scally said he pulled Angle over after seeing his car weaving back and forth over the center line, according to court records.
Scally wrote that he detected "the strong odor of alcoholic beverage" in Angle's car and asked the wrestler how much he had consumed. Angle, who had performed at the Shenandoah County Fair earlier in the evening, replied that he had drank three beers.
A preliminary breath test showed Angle's blood-alcohol level at 0.091 percent. A later test at Front Royal police headquarters showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.06, below the legal limit of 0.08.
Houff said a case with a driver weaving on the road while texting "doesn't fit neatly into any of the cases the court has heard."
"It was not so much offensive, aggressive action as inattention," Houff said in explaining why he chose not to impose a jail sentence or driver's license suspension.
Fleming submitted Angle's driving record for Houff to consider during the sentencing. It showed a reckless driving conviction in North Dakota and several other traffic offenses in Pennsylvania that were dismissed.
"I thought the judge made a thoughtful and measured decision," Gilbert said after the hearing.
Fleming, also speaking after the hearing, rejected Gilbert's argument that the prosecution took a harder line than usual toward Angle because of his celebrity status.
Three state troopers and two civilians trailed Angle for 10 miles on Interstate 66, he said.
Fleming said his actions were "based on his [Angle's] driving behavior. After speaking to the witnesses, they were quite concerned about his driving behavior."