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.