- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania judge has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident and obstructing justice after she allegedly sideswiped an oncoming vehicle last month.

Blairsville District Judge Jennifer Rega, 41, was placed on paid leave last month after state court officials learned she was under investigation for the Sept. 13 crash.

According to a state police compliant, Rega’s SUV crossed the center line just after midnight that morning and knocked the mirror off an oncoming car. The people in the car followed Rega and told police she seemed drunk when they stopped and tried to speak with her. They said she drove away before police arrived.

The witnesses told police the judge’s vehicle was swerving and, once they were able to stop and talk to Rega, the witnesses said they noticed “a strong odor of alcoholic beverages” and said Rega was having trouble opening the door, speaking, understanding and slurring her speech. They also said she seemed disoriented.

Rega hasn’t been charged with drunken driving. Police weren’t able to examine her vehicle until two days later, and the occupants of the other vehicle didn’t pick Rega out of a photo lineup until Sept. 29 to identify her as the driver.

She’s charged with obstruction of justice for not stopping at the scene or later reporting the accident to police. The second-degree misdemeanor, which carries up to two years in jail, is the most serious she faces. She’s also charged with hit-and-run, which carries up to a year in jail, and four traffic citations, including careless driving, which typically carry fines. She faces a Nov. 4 preliminary hearing.

Rega’s lawyer disputed that she’s guilty of obstructing justice. He acknowledged she made other “mistakes” by not stopping after sideswiping an oncoming vehicle. He also disputed the witness accounts in the criminal complaint that his client smelled of alcohol and appeared disoriented.

“Relative to the incident itself, the magistrate acknowledges that she made some mistakes,” Muir said, declining to be more specific. “I’m acknowledging she was involved in a minor motor vehicle accident and she’s accepting responsibility for her conduct.”

Muir denied the judge obstructed justice saying, even if she left the scene, the charge amounts to “piling on” because the other citations and the hit-and-run charge deal with the same alleged behavior - that is, not stopping and reporting the incident to police.

Indiana County Judge William Martin announced Sept. 17 that Rega would be on paid leave while the criminal investigation continued.

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