The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 4, 2013

Hartleton's suspended police chief faces new criminal charges

By Francis Scarcella and Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — As a helpless worker waved him off, a suspended police chief facing trial in a playground-donation-instead-of-tickets scheme drove a riding lawn mower into the employee and over the extension cords and gutters the repairman was using at a home in Hartley Township, state police at Milton said.

Donald “Larry” Zerbe also steered the riding mower across a gravel driveway, spraying rocks into the 2001 Volkswagen Jetta owned by Lamar Schlabach, causing the paint to chip, according to court documents.

Zerbe, suspended police chief in Hartleton, faces new charges after troopers said he arrived at the Hartley Township home Aug. 22 to mow a lawn and began to drive a lawn mower out of control and struck the worker, troopers said.

Lamar and Javon Schlabach, who were employed by the homeowner to replace gutters and downspouts, told police they saw Zerbe arrive and begin to prepare to mow the lawn, according to court documents.

Zerbe drove the lawn mower close to the Schlabachs’ equipment, causing Lamar Schlabach to begin to wave his hands at Zerbe in an attempt to get him to stop mowing, police said.

Zerbe ignored the man and continued on, running over a 3-inch piece of downspout and approximately 20 feet of extension cord, troopers said.

The embattled chief then drove to the other end of the home and over a gravel driveway, spraying rocks into Lamar Schlabach’s Jetta, according to court documents.

The rocks kicked up by Zerbe’s mower were also being cast in the direction of the workers, they told police.

Zerbe made a U-turn and began his second pass by the Schlabachs and toward the front of the house, but this time Javon Schlabach stood in front of the lawn mower with his arms crossed in an attempt to block the former police chief’s path, police said.

The attempt failed.

Zerbe struck Javon Schlabach in the right shin with the deck of the mower, court documents said.

Zerbe now faces a misdemeanor criminal mischief and a summery disorderly conduct after the incident.

Zerbe, 67, also is staring at three third-degree felony counts, two of theft and one of conspiracy, for allegedly offering drivers who committed traffic violations in Hartleton a choice between getting a ticket or making a $150 donation to a playground fund, a scheme police said began in 2008 and ran through 2012.

Less than a week ago, Zerbe did not enter a plea agreement as expected and opted for a jury trial in Union County Court.

Zerbe’s lawyer, Hank J. Clarke, of Pottsville, on Wednesday said he could not comment because he had not received the charges.

Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.