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Joe Paterno’s son-in-law charged in crash that killed Centre County man

BELLEFONTE — Despite “extraordinary damage” to his Honda Pilot, Christopher Craig Hort said he left the scene of a crash in Centre County this spring thinking he had hit a deer, according to court documents.

It turned out that Hort, the son-in-law of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, had struck and killed a 23-year-old man who was riding on a scooter, according to court documents. The man died at the scene.

On Thursday, Hort was charged with felony accidents involving death or personal injury, according to online court dockets.

According to the affidavit, on April 17 around 8:59 p.m. first responders were called to Route 45 in the area of Penns Valley and Paradise roads for a pedestrian who was hit by a car.

The man, not identified in the affidavit, had died after being hit by a car while riding a motorized scooter. He was found wearing a high visibility reflective safety vest, the document states.

The Centre Daily Times has identified the man as John David King, of Centre County.

Investigators were able to identify the suspect’s vehicle as a Honda Pilot between 2012 and 2015, according to the affidavit.

After police put out a call to the public for information on the hit and run and the vehicle through local media, Hort came forward through his attorney to say he might have been involved in the crash, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with police, Hort explained that he was fishing that day in the area of Elk and Pine creeks, according to the affidavit.

Hort said after he passed through Millheim on his way back to State College, he hit something with his car, according to the affidavit. Hort described the windshield as being “smashed” and noticed that the hood of the Pilot was “buckled,” the affidavit said.

Hort said the impact caused a loud boom but he believed that he only “sideswiped” a deer, according to the affidavit. He said he did not stop driving out of fear that his tire would deflate.

Hort did have his cell phone on him but said he only made one call before the crash occurred, according to the affidavit.

When investigators checked Hort’s phone records, they found that he made and received several calls between 8:28 and 9:14 p.m., according to the affidavit.

The phone’s geographical data showed it was in the same area as the crash around 8:30 p.m., according to the affidavit.

When police examined Hort’s vehicle, it was four days after the crash, the affidavit said.

Investigators reported finding heavy damage to the front of the car, which was parked inside Hort’s garage. The damage included a smashed headlight area, a severely buckled hood from the passenger’s side to the driver’s side and a broken windshield, according to the affidavit.

Paint consistent with the color of the scooter the man was riding was found on the bottom of the Pilot, according to the affidavit.

The passenger window had no dirt or debris on it from the windshield to the roof rack, appearing to investigators like it had been wiped down, according to the affidavit.

Investigators believe the impact occurred on the passenger side of the Pilot, according to the affidavit. The man’s autopsy showed bruising that matched the shape of the hood bracket on the Pilot.

Hort told police he did not know about the crash until the evening of April 18 but his internet history shows several searches for crashes on local news media and police websites.

Investigators wrote that Hort ignored the crash “despite extraordinary damage” to his vehicle and did not stop, by his own admission, according to the affidavit. Hort’s actions in both concealing the damaged Pilot in a garage and cleaning part of it, as well as lying about his calls and when he learned of the hit and run, were called “consciousness of guilt” by police in the affidavit.

Hort, who is married to Mary Kay Paterno, was arraigned Thursday and released on $75,000 unsecured bail.

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