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Former fire department members reach plea agreement

WOODSTOCK — Former Strasburg Fire Department members Dale King and Nathan Hirschberg pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor during court proceedings on Monday.

Both King and Hirschberg reached plea agreements with the Commonwealth’s Attorney that will see them serving less jail time than they were sentenced to in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in April. King and Hirschberg were in the midst of appealing those earlier sentences from Judge Kevin Black.

Following the proceedings, Austin Hovermale, an assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for the county, said that the plea agreement would allow the victim to avoid testifying again in the case.

“To avoid her having to go up there and relive this yet again in another scenario, we were willing to somewhat reduce the active jail time with keeping essentially the same sentences,” Hovermale said.

Under the agreements, both King and Hirschberg will continue to have yearlong sentences for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the same sentence that Black handed down to them in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. But more of that sentence will be suspended, meaning that King and Hirschberg will spend less time in jail than they would have under Black’s sentence, assuming they are in good behavior.

Black’s sentence in April would have left Hirschberg spending at least three months in jail and King spending at least two months in jail. Under the plea agreement, King will be spending a minimum of 30 days in jail and Hirschberg will spend a minimum of 45 days in jail.

In addition, prosecutors agreed to remove the part of the arrest warrant against King that accused him of having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

In an interview following the proceedings, King said that many of the accusations leveled against him were false and called the case against him “very media-driven.” In particular, King said that accusations that former members of the Strasburg Fire Department committed gang rape and that the members had sex with the victim on Fire Department property were false.

An affidavit for a search warrant related to the case stated that the victim had allegedly been gang raped by members of the Fire Department at three separate locations, including at the Fire Department.

But in court, none of the five members mentioned in that affidavit were accused of raping the victim and there were no accusations involving Fire Department property. Prosecutors instead alleged that the five members mentioned in the affidavit had consensual sex with the victim.

“The evidence doesn’t support what 90 percent of the accusation was,” King said.

King said that his main reason for accepting the plea deal was that it stripped language accusing him of having sex with a 17-year-old girl but added that he was “basically threatened with other charges if I didn’t plead guilty.”

Hovermale denied that but said that he agreed not to bring forward other charges against King.

” [King’s attorneys] requested that I not (pursue other charges) as part of the agreement, and I agreed not to,” Hovermale said.

Hirschberg also said in an interview following the proceedings that many of the accusations against former members of the Fire Department were false.

“My decision to plead guilty is because the plea bargain agreement didn’t have any other option,” Hirschberg said.

Monday’s plea agreement means that five of the six former members of the Strasburg Fire Department who prosecutors accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl will serve time in jail. Prosecutors dismissed charges against a sixth former member, Chris Pangle.

Four of those six members, including King and Hirschberg, held leadership positions within the department. King served as the department’s fire chief between 2017 and early this year; Hirschberg was training captain for the department in 2017.

Each of the four members were elected into leadership positions before they were charged. They have all since left the department, having resigned from the department or having been kicked out.

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