Gerard M. Shaffer Sr., the former Philadelphia firefighter facing murder charges in connection with an April 2010 road-rage incident in the Far Northeast, died suddenly last week.
Shaffer, 48, died at home, according to the district attorney’s office.
A trial date had been set for May 14, and a hearing on a motion was scheduled for last Wednesday, Dec. 7, two days after Shaffer’s death.
The incident took place at about 7:30 p.m. on April 8, 2010, at Knights and Fairdale roads in Millbrook.
Shaffer was driving, and his adult son, Gerard Jr., was in the passenger seat. They were returning to their home on the 4100 block of Farmdale Road, turning from Knights Road onto Fairdale Road.
At the same time, 54-year-old Mark Wallace, of the 3900 block of Patrician Drive, was walking along Knights Road, crossing the street at Fairdale Road.
At a preliminary hearing in May 2010, an eyewitness said she was walking to Franklin Mills mall when she heard a car beeping at a man crossing the street.
“I have the right of way,” the pedestrian said.
The witness said she saw Shaffer Sr. park his car and walk toward Wallace, who had his hands up. As Wallace walked away, she saw Shaffer push him, and the pedestrian responded with a punch to the shoulder. The two started fighting.
According to testimony from the witness, Shaffer Jr. pushed his father out of the way, put Wallace in a bear hug and threw him to the ground.
Another witness testified that Shaffer Jr. hit Wallace in the face and that his father dragged Wallace by the collar of his shirt and dropped him “like a sack of potatoes.”
By that time, a crowd had gathered at the scene.
“You didn’t see anything,” two witnesses testified Shaffer Sr. told the crowd.
Witnesses said the Shaffers left the scene, and one bystander copied down their license plate number. They were arrested for the beating.
Wallace died 12 days later, and the charges were upgraded to murder. An assistant city medical examiner testified that Wallace died of a brain injury. The brain was completely swollen, cutting off blood flow and causing a stroke. The victim had a blood-alcohol content of 0.264.
The prosecution asked that the duo be held on a general murder charge, but Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon held them on charges of third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy.
Shaffer Sr. also faced charges of hindering apprehension and unsworn falsification because he gave a statement to police claiming that he merely drove by the scene after picking up his paycheck at Ladder 34, at Bustleton Avenue and Bowler Street. He claimed that Wallace was arguing with motorists and was roughed up by a young white man in a red shirt who left the scene through a Rite Aid parking lot.
After the alleged assault, Shaffer retired from the fire department.
Shaffer Jr., 22, remains under house arrest and will go on trial in the spring.
The Times had profiled the elder Shaffer three times as part of charitable endeavors. At the time, he worked at Engine 18, at 8205 Roosevelt Blvd.
In 2002, he rode a bicycle from the World Trade Center site to the Pentagon in remembrance of the terrorist attacks a year earlier.
The following year, he and his then-14-year-old son, an eighth-grader at the former Benjamin Rush Middle School, rode from New York to the Pentagon.
In 2005, Shaffer Sr. rode from California to Florida to raise money for victims of a series of hurricanes.
Shaffer is survived by his wife, Mary Beth. He was the father of Elizabeth McDonough, Gerard Jr., Patricia and the late Ernie. He is also survived by a grandson, Daniel, two sisters and two brothers.
A viewing and service were held on Saturday at Louis A. DiGiacomo Funeral Home on Southampton Road in Somerton. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org