Police mourning 'unthinkable' loss

— Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo, a 23-year vet­er­an of the po­lice force, is killed by a wrong-way driver on I-95.

Po­lice Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo (photo provided by the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment)


For Phil­adelphia High­way Patrol Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo, chrome-trimmed mo­tor­cycles with their full-throated roar wer­en’t just a hobby or even a pro­fes­sion.

They con­sumed his pas­sion and tran­scen­ded his soul. The ma­chines al­lowed him to provide for his fam­ily, pro­tect his com­munity, demon­strate his skill, share his know­ledge and up­lift the chil­dren of fel­low of­ficers killed in the line of duty.

Col­leagues con­sidered the 23-year po­lice vet­er­an a re­spec­ted lead­er and a role mod­el for mo­tor­cycle cops throughout the Phil­adelphia re­gion.

Now, they can’t be­lieve he’s gone, killed by an al­legedly in­tox­ic­ated wrong-way driver on In­ter­state 95 in the North­east early Sunday.

“We’re so used to tak­ing care of every­one else and their fam­il­ies. Now it’s one of our lead­ers, our seni­or mem­bers,” said Of­ficer Bill Dev­ine of the High­way Patrol. “It’s in­des­crib­able; it’s un­think­able. A lot of the guys are in dis­be­lief.”

Lorenzo, 48, was a mar­ried fath­er of three. He served 15 years in High­way Patrol, in­clud­ing five as one of the unit’s four mo­tor­cycle or “wheel” in­struct­ors.

He also was co-cap­tain of the unit’s Drill Team, which per­forms finely tuned stunts at the an­nu­al Hero Thrill Show and oth­er events throughout the year to raise schol­ar­ship money for the chil­dren of slain po­lice of­ficers.

“It was (about) his love of High­way Patrol, mo­tor­cycle train­ing, the Drill Team and what it stands for,” said Dev­ine. “We have the abil­ity to go out and raise money for these fam­il­ies. It was (his way of) giv­ing back. It was pos­it­ive.”

The crash oc­curred at 3:14 a.m. in the high­way’s north­bound lanes just south of the Cottman Av­en­ue in­ter­change. Lorenzo had just fin­ished a shift at High­way Patrol headquar­ters on Erie Av­en­ue near Sixth Street and was on his way to his Somer­ton home.

He was in full uni­form and pi­lot­ing his de­part­ment-is­sued Har­ley Dav­id­son in the left lane, closest to the cen­ter guard­rail. Con­sid­er­ing high­way speeds, he would’ve had vir­tu­ally no time to evade the on­com­ing car, Deputy Com­mis­sion­er Richard Ross said.

Ac­cord­ing to Pennsylvania State Po­lice, Levit­town res­id­ent John Leck Jr., 47, drove his gray 2010 Audi A6 the wrong way up the Cottman Av­en­ue exit ramp and entered the high­way’s north­bound lanes trav­el­ing south­bound. He merged to­ward the cen­ter guard­rail and struck Lorenzo’s mo­tor­cycle head-on.

Lorenzo was pro­nounced dead at the scene from un­dis­closed in­jur­ies.

Leck “dis­played sev­er­al in­dic­at­ors of in­tox­ic­a­tion” at the crash scene, state po­lice said. Au­thor­it­ies did not dis­close his level of al­leged in­tox­ic­a­tion and have not re­leased in­form­a­tion about his sus­pec­ted where­abouts be­fore the crash.

Leck was taken to Aria Health-Tor­res­dale, where he re­mained hos­pit­al­ized un­der po­lice guard late Monday. His in­jur­ies were not dis­closed, but are not con­sidered life threat­en­ing, said Cpl. Gerry Mc­Shea, a state po­lice spokes­man.

He was charged with third-de­gree murder, hom­icide by vehicle, in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter, DUI and ag­grav­ated as­sault and is sched­uled for a Ju­ly 25 pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing.

Leck worked as a su­per­visor at a Tre­vose-based col­lec­tions agency. A Levit­town nat­ive, he at­ten­ded Ne­sham­iny Maple Point High School and In­di­ana Uni­versity of Pennsylvania. He lived with his wid­owed moth­er and, ac­cord­ing to court re­cords, has no crim­in­al con­vic­tions in Phil­adelphia or Bucks counties.

State po­lice have asked any wit­nesses to call 215-560-6200 to provide in­form­a­tion about the crash.

In­vest­ig­at­ors be­lieve that Leck entered the high­way via the Cottman Av­en­ue ramp be­cause a state troop­er was con­duct­ing a car-stop just north of the in­ter­change at the time, but did not see the gray Audi trav­el­ing in the wrong dir­ec­tion, Mc­Shea said.

In or­der to ac­cess that ramp, Leck likely would’ve had to drive east­bound for about a block on a west­bound-only sec­tion of Cottman, dis­reg­ard­ing red “Do Not Enter” signs pos­ted at State Road.

Mo­tor­ists of­ten make that mis­take, ac­cord­ing to one area mer­chant, but they usu­ally turn back be­fore reach­ing the high­way.

“I would say it hap­pens once a week at least,” said Steve Kessler, own­er of Cottman Check Cash­ing. “It hap­pens dur­ing the day­light. Once (mo­tor­ists) come down (Cottman), they real­ize it right away be­cause cars start com­ing (at them) off the ramp.”

Mis­taken mo­tor­ists usu­ally turn in­to Kessler’s park­ing lot to evade on­com­ing cars.

Kessler thinks much of the con­fu­sion began when the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion re­cently con­ver­ted Cottman Av­en­ue west of State Road from a one-way street to a two-way street. The modi­fic­a­tion was part of PennDOT’s on­go­ing Cottman Av­en­ue in­ter­change re­con­fig­ur­a­tion pro­ject.

Vehicles trav­el­ing east­bound on Cottman must turn right or left onto State Road. But for mo­tor­ists who miss the signs and con­tin­ue east­bound, there are no ad­di­tion­al warn­ings that the ramp ahead is not an on-ramp.

A spokes­man for PennDOT’s Dis­trict 6 said that the agency is un­aware of any ac­ci­dent pat­tern at the loc­a­tion, al­though data was not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

“They should put red/yel­low ar­rows there,” Kessler said.

Lorenzo is the first Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer killed in the line of duty since John Pawlowski, who was shot fatally by a rob­bery sus­pect on a North Phil­adelphia street on Feb. 13, 2009. Pawlowski’s slay­ing was the latest of six in a 15-month span among city po­lice. High­way Patrol Sgt. Patrick Mc­Don­ald was killed on Sept. 23, 2008.

Born in The Bronx, N.Y., Lorenzo moved to Phil­adelphia as a child with his fam­ily. His fath­er, Manuel, was act­ive in loc­al polit­ics and ran un­suc­cess­fully for City Coun­cil in 1979, los­ing the 7th dis­trict race to in­cum­bent Harry Jan­notti.

Bri­an Lorenzo gradu­ated from Frank­ford High School in 1982 and played end on the Pi­on­eers’ cham­pi­on­ship foot­ball team.

“He was a great guy and al­ways a hard work­er,” said Of­ficer Joe Hans­bury, Lorenzo’s high school team­mate. “He was a quiet guy, (but) once you go to Frank­ford and play foot­ball to­geth­er, you al­ways have a bond.”

Lorenzo and his wife Linda were high school sweet­hearts. They have two sons, ages 24 and 4, along with a daugh­ter, 22.

Lorenzo served eight years with po­lice de­part­ment’s 25th dis­trict, then 15 years in High­way Patrol, in­clud­ing 12 on the Drill Team and five as an in­struct­or.

Po­lice de­part­ments from throughout South­east­ern Pennsylvania and South Jer­sey send of­ficers to Phil­adelphia’s mo­tor­cycle train­ing pro­gram. Lorenzo did everything he could to make sure they suc­ceeded.

“When I was in ‘wheel train­ing,’ I was hav­ing a prob­lem on a couple of the courses. He would stay after work every day to make sure I passed the test the first time,” said High­way Patrol Of­ficer Rick Bowes. “Every time you’d get frus­trated, he’d be the calm­ing in­flu­ence.”

“I think he was brought up in a fam­ily with a good fath­er and a good work eth­ic,” Dev­ine said. “He would give up his lunch time if some­body needed some ex­tra help.”

In his spare time, Lorenzo was al­ways will­ing to help or­gan­ize fu­ner­al pro­ces­sions for de­ceased of­ficers, as well as wel­come-home es­corts for re­turn­ing mil­it­ary ser­vice­men and wo­men.

He rode with High­way of­ficers and loc­al at­tor­ney James Binns when they de­livered hol­i­day meals to the fam­il­ies of slain of­ficers.

“Bri­an Lorenzo nev­er missed a ride,” Binns said. “We’d go out on East­er, Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas to de­liv­er meals. He was al­ways there.” ••

View­ing and fu­ner­al set …

A view­ing for Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo will be­gin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Ju­ly 12, at John F. Givn­ish Fu­ner­al Home, 10975 Academy Road. The north­bound lanes of Academy Road from Comly to Red Li­on Roads will be closed to traffic from about 4 to 7:30 p.m.

A second view­ing will be at Cathed­ral Ba­silica of Saints Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St., on Fri­day at 7 a.m. and be fol­lowed by a fu­ner­al Mass. The buri­al will be at Re­sur­rec­tion Cemetery in Ben­s­alem that af­ter­noon.

The Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5 has es­tab­lished the Bri­an Lorenzo Me­mori­al Fund in the of­ficer’s hon­or at the Po­lice and Fire Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on.


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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