Thomas Gallagher Jr.

Thomas J. Gallagher Jr., in a photo provided by Lancaster County Prison, is accused of driving drunk and causing the fatal accident that killed 18-year-old Meredith Demko. Gallagher's license was suspended at the time of the crash due to a previous DUI.

Even though two passengers riding with Thomas J. Gallagher Jr. knew he was drinking vodka before a fatal crash, they can't be charged, law enforcement officials say.

"Just knowing that someone is likely drunk and getting into a car (with the driver) is not a crime," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said.

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Gallagher, 29, of New Providence, faces a mandatory three-year state prison sentence if convicted of DUI-related vehicular homicide. West Lampeter Township police charged Gallagher after the July 8 head-on collision that killed 18-year-old Meredith Demko, who was driving north on Lampeter Road.

Jennifer Leibley, 22, of Willow Street, and Christian Sanchez, 29, of New Providence, pleaded with Gallagher to pull over as he weaved and swerved in the minutes before the collision.

Police allege Gallagher's blood-alcohol level was about three times the legal limit. He allegedly drank vodka and used heroin before the crash.

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"Charging a passenger would present a lot of legal challenges," Stedman said in an email. "In theory there could be circumstances which would warrant it, such as if they intentionally and somehow actively assisted. ... I don't want to get into a lot of hypotheticals other than to say it would be very case specific."

Trooper Samantha L. Minnucci, community service officer with the state police, said passengers could be sued in civil court but could not be criminally charged for the driver's actions.

"The passengers do get a lecture, indeed, about their decisions, but they are not held criminally liable," Minnucci said.

But a summary citation could be filed against someone who knowingly lends his car to someone with a suspended license, Minnucci said.

Gallagher was driving a car registered to his mother.

(Staff writer Tim Stuhldreher contributed to this report.)

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Jeff Hawkes writes about social policy and the well-being of Lancaster County and its people for Lancaster Newspapers. He can be reached at jhawkes@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6141.