Northeast Times

Driver to stand trial for crash that killed highway officer

Start­Frag­ment

De­tails of the dev­ast­at­ing high­way crash that claimed the life of Phil­adelphia Po­lice Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo in Ju­ly brought the high­way patrol­man’s wid­ow to tears.

But the al­leged drunk­en, wrong-way driver who caused the fatal crash sat vir­tu­ally ex­pres­sion­less throughout a two-hour pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing on murder, vehicu­lar hom­icide and nu­mer­ous oth­er charges last Wed­nes­day.

At the end of the court ses­sion, Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni ordered John Leck, 47, to stand tri­al on all counts, in­clud­ing third-de­gree murder.

“It looked like a bomb had gone off on I-95,” State Troop­er Charles Burck­hardt said from the wit­ness stand as he de­scribed the crash scene.

Wit­ness Al­isha Bul­lock test­i­fied that the head-on col­li­sion between Lorenzo’s 2010 Har­ley-Dav­id­son mo­tor­cycle and Leck’s 2010 Audi A6 soun­ded like “a loud boom.” After im­pact, she saw the of­ficer’s body fall to the pave­ment and the mo­tor­cycle burst in­to flames.

Lorenzo’s fam­ily and fel­low po­lice of­ficers packed the courtroom gal­lery, sep­ar­ated from the lit­ig­ants by ceil­ing-height trans­par­ent se­cur­ity bar­ri­ers. The vic­tim’s wife, Linda, ex­ited the courtroom in tears dur­ing Burck­hardt’s re-cre­ation of the hor­rif­ic crash, dur­ing which pro­sec­utor Jac­queline Coelho presen­ted pho­to­graph­ic and video evid­ence.

“In twenty-sev­en years on the job, I’ve nev­er heard any­thing so chilling as what Bri­an went through in the last few seconds of his life,” said John McNesby, pres­id­ent of the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5, after the hear­ing.

The crash oc­curred at 3:14 a.m. in the north­bound lanes of the in­ter­state about a half-mile south of the Cottman Av­en­ue exit ramp.

Lorenzo, 48, had just fin­ished a shift with his po­lice unit and was rid­ing to­ward his Somer­ton home. He was in full uni­form and rid­ing a High­way Patrol Drill Team mo­tor­cycle with full po­lice mark­ings.

Leck, of Levit­town, was driv­ing south­bound in the north­bound lanes. Au­thor­it­ies say his blood-al­co­hol level was tested at al­most three times the leg­al lim­it, .218 per­cent, shortly after the crash.

Leck’s at­tor­ney, Mi­chael Par­low, con­ceded in court that his cli­ent “was really drunk, got on 95 the wrong way and un­for­tu­nately caused an ac­ci­dent that killed Of­ficer Lorenzo.”

Burck­hardt test­i­fied that Lorenzo was trav­el­ing at 68 mph and Leck between 62 and 65 mph. The im­pact left a field of debris span­ning hun­dreds of feet on both sides of the eight-lane in­ter­state.

Leck’s 4,300-pound car forced Lorenzo’s 1,100-pound mo­tor­cycle in the op­pos­ite dir­ec­tion from which it was trav­el­ing and launched the of­ficer from his vehicle. Lorenzo’s body struck the hood of the car and came to rest 21 feet from the im­pact point, Burck­hardt said.

Lorenzo, a 23-year po­lice vet­er­an, was a fath­er of three and the broth­er of a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer who re­mains act­ive in the de­part­ment.

The Audi crashed against a guard­rail. State Troop­er Brendan Con­nor was first to the scene and ar­res­ted Leck un­der sus­pi­cion of DUI.

The short, husky Leck, who worked at a Bucks County debt col­lec­tion agency, sat hunched at the de­fense table throughout last week’s hear­ing, with closely cropped gray­ing hair, stubble on his face and wear­ing an or­ange pris­on jump­suit. His only no­tice­able ges­tures were oc­ca­sion­al sighs.

Leck’s arm was wrapped in a splint and band­age, while a brace sup­por­ted his leg. Par­low told news re­port­ers that his cli­ent takes med­ic­a­tions as he con­tin­ues to re­cov­er from ac­ci­dent-re­lated in­jur­ies.

Par­low asked Deni to dis­miss the murder and ag­grav­ated as­sault charges against Leck, ar­guing that his cli­ent had no ma­li­cious­ness or malice and had been too drunk to have a con­scious dis­reg­ard for safety.

Coelho, the pro­sec­utor, countered that “malice can be in­ferred by the to­tal­ity of cir­cum­stances” as well as Leck’s “sus­tained reck­less­ness.” Leck would have dis­reg­arded nine “do not enter” or “one way” signs while en­ter­ing the high­way via the Cottman Av­en­ue exit ramp, as well as street mark­ings and dozens of oth­er visu­al in­dic­at­ors.

Deni up­held the murder and as­sault charges, as well as DUI, hom­icide by vehicle while DUI and in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter.

Leck re­mains in the Phil­adelphia De­ten­tion Cen­ter and is sched­uled for a Com­mon Pleas Court ar­raign­ment on Oct. 17. ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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