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Lawmaker arrested for DUI has license suspended

Saturday, September 30, 2000

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG -- A Western Pennsylvania legislator arrested for drunken driving in April was assigned by a judge yesterday to a first-time offenders' program, the eighth state lawmaker in 16 months to run afoul of the law.

State Rep. Michael C. Gruitza, D-Mercer, was given 40 hours of community service and a three-month license suspension. He also must pay court costs of about $750 and attend safe-driving classes. His record will be cleared if he successfully completes the program.

Dauphin County Judge Scott Evans approved Gruitza for the program without comment. The lawmaker also faces an additional one-year suspension of his license for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test.

"I made a mistake," Gruitza said after the court appearance. "I deeply regret that it occurred and am pleased to be through this process and put this matter behind me."

Michael Rozman, Dauphin County's chief deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said Gruitza's punishment is standard for first-time DUI offenders.

"There are a lot of people this happens to," he said.

Gruitza was arrested at 12:15 a.m. on April 25 in Penbrook, where the lawmaker has an apartment.

Police reports indicated a couple leaving a restaurant said they saw Gruitza drop his keys and fall down after getting out of his car on Market Street. The witnesses then followed him while he drove his car and called police on a cellular telephone after he ran a stop sign.

Penbrook police Chief David Hiester said Gruitza failed a field sobriety test, and a Dauphin County booking center reported that he refused to take a Breathalyzer test when he arrived there.

Gruitza has been a state legislator since 1981 and is running for re-election against Sharon beer distributor Jack Kopen in November.

Gruitza said the DUI offense would not interfere with his job duties.

"I've been doing my job and intend to do my job," he said. "I have not attempted to avoid the issue and will ... face the consequences of my actions."

Seven lawmakers have been convicted of crimes since last year. More notable ones include former Rep. Thomas Druce, who resigned and faces sentencing on charges from a hit-and-run accident that killed a Harrisburg man; and former state Sen. William L. Slocum, R-Warren, who resigned after sentencing on federal pollution charges.

In addition, state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, has said she plans to enter the first-time offender's program after she was charged with drunken driving.

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