Gabriel Hernandez-Mendez, the father of former Pennsylvania congressman and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta’s grandchild, received a 1-2 year sentence on Tuesday for a hit-and-run.
The incident, which occurred in June, left 15-year-old bicyclist Hector Padilla dead. Padilla’s father Pedro has said that he recognizes that what happened was an accident but that he also believes a much more severe sentence was warranted insofar as the 45-year-old Hernandez-Mendez drove away from the scene and kept quiet about it for 45 days.
FOX 56 News reporter Dylan Fearon, who has followed the case closely and reported on the trial, spoke with The Pennsylvania Daily Star Wednesday about the case and political suspicions that some have voiced regarding it.
“The Padilla family came out and said they believed there was some influence in this case … potentially because of the Lou Barletta connection,” Fearon said. Barletta is the grandfather of Hernandez-Mendez’s child.
Fearon noted that despite Hernandez-Mendez having hidden from the law for six weeks before he turned himself in, the defendant was convicted only of “homicide by vehicle” while an “accident involving death” charge would have carried a minimum of three years imprisonment. Luzerne County prosecutors initially sought the latter charge but dropped it on grounds that they could not prove it.
The vehicle Hernandez-Mendez was driving has never been seized. Fearon said unconfirmed rumors about the car have posited that it was taken to a chop shop and destroyed.
“They’ve never recovered the car,” the reporter said. “They have no idea where it is.”
Another element of the sentencing that has troubled the family is that Hernandez-Mendez has received immediate work release, so he will be able to leave prison during the day for work and come back to the facility at night.
A Barletta campaign spokesperson told reporters, “Lou learned that a private investigator believed that Mr. Hernandez-Mendez was a potential suspect less than 24 hours before he turned himself in. Law enforcement has been handling this tragedy from the beginning and Lou never had any contact with police, prosecutors, or the judge working on the case, nor did anyone communicate with them on his behalf.”
Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce has likewise told Fearon that such allegations are “not true,” adding, “We have had no contact from Lou Barletta or any representative.”
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Hernandez-Mendez is the father of Barletta’s grandchild.