Judge drops escape charges against suspect

A Philadelphia man will face trial on charges he sold heroin and cocaine to a police informant.

Magisterial District Judge Todd Kelly found police had enough evidence to try Dwayne T. Pendergrass, 20, of Philadelphia on drug-related charges, but not a felony escape charge filed by police after Pendergrass tried fleeing Altoona police officers who swooped in to arrest him after a controlled buy of heroin earlier this month.

“Not stopping for flashing lights is fleeing, not escaping,” noted Pendergrass’ defense attorney, Dan Kiss. Kiss argued that in order for Pendergrass to be charged with escape, he first had to be in custody. Kiss pointed out testimony from Altoona Sgt. Benjamin Jones only indicated Pendergrass fled officers as they tried to block his vehicle following an alleged sale of heroin near the 1400 block of 13th Street on May 19.

According to case law, Kiss told Kelly, police would have had to have already detained Pendergrass in order to charge him with escape, and ultimately Kelly agreed.

Kelly did find that prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks did present enough evidence to send felony and misdemeanor drug charges on to Blair County Court.

The prosecution’s main witness was a confidential informant who testified she became an informant in the hopes of getting a drunken driving case withdrawn.

The woman testified she knew Pendergrass by his nicknames “Pretty Boy” or “Black” and that she met him through a friend. The woman denied she was involved with drugs herself.

She said she offered up Pendergrass’ name to the Blair County Drug Task Force when she started working with cops back in March.

Her first buy from Pendergrass was for $50 worth of cocaine on April 3.

“I gave him the money,” she testified. “He gave me a little baggie with coke in it.”

The informant testified she bought heroin from Pendergrass on April 19 and again on May 19, the day police planned to take Pendergrass into custody.

Jones told the court that Pendergrass drove away as officers moved in and led Altoona police on a brief car chase before he lost control of his vehicle near Willow Avenue and Fifth Street.

Pendergrass fled on foot but was captured by police about a half-hour after it all began, Jones said. Initially, Pendergrass tried giving police a fake name, but he was eventually identified through the birth date he had given to police.

Jones said Pendergrass wasn’t wearing shoes, and police never did retrieve the money used in the drug buy.

Pendergrass remains in Blair County Prison in lieu of $80,000 cash bail and is next due to appear in court July 28 for a pre-trial conference.