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May 29, 2016
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Court appeal could send hospitalized Afghan vet to jail

Vietnam veteran Bob Byrne of Delaware Township is pictured at the October 16 Pike County Commissioners meeting. Byrne was there as a spokesman for a legal fundraising effort for the family of Afghanistan veteran Tim Flaherty. Byrne is a member of Wednesday veterans’ counseling group, which Flaherty attended for a while.
TRR photo by David Hulse

A group of military veterans calling themselves “Tim’s Support Team” is sponsoring an October 27 spaghetti dinner from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Marsch-Kellogg American Legion Post in Milford. The $15 donations would go to raise funds to assist the family of Tim Flaherty, an Army combat veteran of the Afghanistan war with four-plus tours.

Flaherty and his grandparents, who raised him, are opposing a PA Superior Court appeal by Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin. It would overturn Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph Kameen’s decision to furlough Flaherty from a Pike County jail sentence to the Montrose, NY, Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital for treatment of alcohol dependence linked to combat-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Following his fourth DUI conviction this spring, Flaherty, 32, faced a Pike County jail sentence of one year plus 90 days to five years. At the defense’s request and upon his acceptance into the VA program, Kameen furloughed Flaherty to the Montrose VA program in May, and soon after Tonkin filed his appeal.

Tonkin’s appeal argues that PA law does not allow a trial judge the discretion to grant a furlough in any case where a sentence of five years or more is imposed, and seeks Flaherty’s return to the Pike County Jail.

It also argues that since Flaherty has had four DUI convictions in a 10-year period, by law he is ineligible for “intermediate punishment,” programs.

Separate from the appeal, Tonkin also stated that in a subsequent DUI case recently with similar circumstances, Kameen did not grant 53-year-old Edward Siro of Beach Lake furlough from the jail sentence.

In the same statement, Tonkin wrote, “One person has already been injured by Mr. Flaherty, who admitted in court he was a danger to the community, who had been through rehabilitation on previous occasions, and had been granted extraordinary leniency on a prior occasion after his second DUI conviction and assault upon two state troopers. It could have been any one of our family, friends or neighbors whose life could have been destroyed, if they had found themselves in the path of Mr. Flaherty’s vehicle or someone like him driving with a blood alcohol content almost four times the legal limit.”

Pike County Commissioner Richard Caridi, himself a Marine Corps veteran, has been an outspoken advocate for veterans’ services and a critic of “sending the nation’s treasure into hell holes for no reason whatsoever.”

Caridi believes that the Pike County Jail will not be able to provide Flaherty with the emotional and physical help he needs, and that those who suffer from their combat service to the country deserve whatever help society can give them. “There are 22 suicides a day among recent vets. None of them asked to be sent to war,” he said.

Neither Michael Weinstein, who represented Flaherty at trial, nor Shannon Muir, who is representing him in the appeal, would comment on the case.

Flaherty’s grandmother, Mary Flaherty, said that the Montrose VA program is geared to PTSD, issues she said the army would never recognize during Flaherty’s active service. “He’s made tremendous progress. He’ll always have (PTSD), but you can compensate…. His frame of mind is back to where he used to be.”

She said Flaherty has responded to the intensive program at Montrose and opened up in talking to those working with him about his injuries.

In a recent visit she said, “He smiled for the first time since he came back. He’s always been insulated, never trusted people.”

She said her grandson is talking about going back to school, having a life and getting a job, perhaps to work with elderly veterans. “It would be very hurtful if it’s more important for him to sit in jail, now that he’s getting better,” she said.

The appeal is still pending and state Superior Court has not set a date for oral presentations in the case.