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Golfer faces 4 to 8 years in prison for vehicular homicide

After his second year at Temple, a student charged with vehicular homicide accepted a plea deal that would put him in jail for four to eight years.

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Courtesy Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office

Connor McNicholas, 20, a Temple golfer and sophomore finance major from Horsham, Pa., was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison on Tuesday morning after pleading guilty to seven charges, including two counts of vehicular homicide.

McNicholas was arrested in August 2011 in connection to a single-vehicle accident in Horsham that left two dead and two injured. A standout freshman golfer who earned All Atlantic Ten Conference honors in 2011, McNicholas signed a waiver in November 2011 eliminating the need for a preliminary hearing and returned to Temple where he completed his 2011-12 scholastic year.

Hillel Hoffman, assistant director of government, community and public affairs, said the school’s decision not to suspend McNicholas was based on the nature of the case.

“When it comes to suspensions, it’s a case-by-case basis,” Hoffman said. “Decisions on suspensions are based on a lot of different factors. One of the things taken into account is the nature of the charges and the immediacy of the threat to campus.”

Police said McNicholas was driving his family’s 2007 Honda Civic drunk, traveling at speeds estimated up to 100 mph, when the vehicle failed to make a turn on Witmer Road early in the morning on Aug. 6, 2011. The car careened off the road, hitting several trees before coming to a stop more than 400 feet away.

Edward Taylor Coombs, 19, and Robert Walker Nagel, 19, both 2010 Hatboro-Horsham classmates and long-time friends of McNicholas’, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. McNicholas’ blood-alcohol content was tested to be .117, more than five times the legal limit for driving for a person underage.

Eric Coombs, father of Edward Coombs and former member of the Hatboro-Horsham school board, told McNicholas he forgives him for his actions, but holds him personally responsible in a formal address before the court at the Montgomery Country Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. on Tuesday.

“I want you to know your lack of responsibility took the heartbeat out of my life,” the elder Coombs said. “In two minutes, you have ruined your life and my family’s life. We wish you and your family the best with the tragedy that you caused. Edward trusted you with his life and you took it away from him.”

“There are no birthdays, no Christmases, no anniversaries,” Forrestine Coombs, Edward Coombs’ mother, said. “Time is flat. For us, those days will no longer be the same.”

Patricia Nagel, mother of Robert Nagel, said that in the 10 months between the accident and the court hearing on Tuesday, the Nagel family hadn’t heard a word of apology or condolences from McNicholas or a member of his family.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t cry for my son,” Patricia Nagel told the court. “[To McNicholas] Hopefully, in your life you make better choices than you did that night.”

McNicholas faced 20 charges, including two counts of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, two counts of homicide by vehicle and unsworn falsification to authorities. McNicholas lied about his relationship with the victims to police on the night of the accident, according to court records.

“We only wish you could have made some type of peace, instead of denying knowing the boys,” Forrestine Coombs said.

McNicholas completed his sophomore year at Temple before appearing before the court on Tuesday wearing a light blue button-up shirt, khaki’s and black-rimmed glasses. He plead guilty to seven charges: one count of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, one count of homicide by vehicle, reckless driving, speeding, operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and two counts of recklessly endangering another person. The charges were reduced in the plea deal from the original 20 that he was charged with.

Judge William J. Furber Jr. sentenced McNicholas to 4 to 8 years in a state institution. Furber called the events surrounding the case an “unspeakable tragedy” as he handed out the sentence, and spoke to the families of the two victims.

“To the extent that it is possible, I would hope that through relying on family, friends and faith, you will see yourself through this,” Furber said.

An inconsolable McNicholas addressed the court before receiving his sentence.

“There are no excuses for what I did that night. I lost two of my best friends,” McNicholas said. “It just breaks my heart to know that they don’t have their sons anymore and I’m responsible for that.”

McNicholas earned Atlantic Ten Conference Most Outstanding Rookie Performer Honors after tying for seventh at the 2011 A-10 Golf Championship. In his profile page on the Fox School of Business website, McNicholas says he chose to be a finance major “because golf and business go hand in hand.”

“I have won many golf tournaments throughout my career and would like to play golf throughout my entire lifetime,” McNicholas said.

Joey Cranney can be reached at joseph.cranney@temple.edu.

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