The drunken driver who struck and killed Philadelphia Highway Patrol Officer Brian Lorenzo while traveling in the wrong direction on Interstate 95 16 months ago has been ordered to spend the next 10 to 20 years in prison.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina issued the sentence after an hourlong hearing on Monday morning during which defendant John D. Leck of Levittown apologized for the slaying and asked the victim’s family, co-workers and friends for forgiveness.
“I’m not the monster I’m made out to be,” Leck, 48, told the court. “I am truly sorry and wish this day never happened. The last thing I wanted was to hurt anybody and their family. I hope one day I can be forgiven for this, but I understand if I’m not.”
Authorities measured Leck’s blood-alcohol content at 0.218 percent less than an hour after the crash. The legal threshold for intoxication is 0.08. Leck pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence on Oct. 15 as the court was preparing for his trial. The District Attorney’s Office had offered to recommend a sentence of 10 to 20 years to the court in exchange for his guilty plea, but Leck turned down that deal, hoping for a lesser sentence.
At Monday’s hearing, Leck was facing a maximum possible sentence of 20 to 40 years for the murder count alone. Sarmina noted Leck’s clean criminal record prior to the crash and ordered him to serve a separate concurrent prison term of five to 10 years for the homicide by vehicle while DUI count.
The judge further ordered Leck to serve 10 years probation upon his release from prison and to pay close to $30,000 in restitution to the city and to the Fraternal Order of Police to cover expenses related to Lorenzo’s funeral. Leck will be prohibited from driving throughout his probation.
Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho asked Sarmina to give Leck 15 to 30 years in prison, although the prosecutor noted that no sentence could bring satisfaction to the victim’s loved ones.
“Nothing is ever going to bring back their husband, their father, their loved one,” Coelho said. “This is a tragedy that’s going to resonate with them for years to come.”
The packed courtroom gallery included the families of both Lorenzo and Leck, many of Lorenzo’s fellow Highway Patrol officers and the relatives of several other slain officers.
Lorenzo’s wife, Linda, and brother, Manny, who also is a Philadelphia police officer, delivered sad impact statements from the witness stand.
Manny Lorenzo told of how he learned of his brother’s death when police arrived at his home in the pre-dawn hours of July 8, 2012. They rang the doorbell; he looked outside, saw the officers and knew “nothing good could come” from their unexpected visit. Manny Lorenzo then “opened the door to a nightmare.”
Linda Lorenzo told of how she and her husband, a Frankford High graduate, began dating as teenagers. The couple married, settled in Somerton and had three children. Linda Lorenzo also described her last conversation with her husband. He was working the night shift in the hours leading up to the fatal crash. She called him, asked him if he had eaten dinner and said, “I love you.”
“These were two people who were partners in life. He was her high school sweetheart,” Coelho said. “This is a tragedy that won’t go away.”
The crash occurred at 3:13 a.m. on July 8, 2012. Leck had spent several hours drinking at a TGI Fridays in Bensalem before closing out his tab at 1:16 a.m. Leck told authorities he doesn’t remember how he ended up at the accident scene almost two hours later and 12 miles from the restaurant.
Coelho argued that Leck must have been drinking heavily at another undetermined location after leaving Friday’s, judging the defendant’s blood-alcohol level.
Moments before the crash, Leck drove his 2010 Audi luxury sedan eastbound on Cottman Avenue and up the northbound I-95 off-ramp. He then drove less than a mile southbound in the northbound lanes of the interstate.
Lorenzo, a 48-year-old with 23 years on the job, was traveling northbound on his police motorcycle in full uniform. He had just completed a night shift and was headed toward his Far Northeast home. The officer spotted a woman driving at a high rate of speed, pulled alongside her and motioned her to slow down. An instant later, Leck’s car met Lorenzo’s motorcycle head on.
The impact decimated the police vehicle and caused numerous traumatic injuries to the officer. He died at the scene.
Leck suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. He was arrested under suspicion of DUI and hospitalized while in police custody.
A longtime employee of a Bucks County-based debt collection firm, Leck appeared in court wearing a prison jumpsuit. His dark, heavily graying hair was clipped closely to his scalp. He read rapidly from a printed statement.
Defense attorney Michael Kevin Parlow summoned Leck’s relatives and friends to speak on behalf of his client. They generally described him as law-abiding and not a “habitual” drinker. The defense attorney noted that Leck, who is single and had no children, had been living on his own before his father died of brain cancer in 2004. Leck then moved back home to help his widowed mother.
“That’s the tragedy of these types of cases,” Coelho said. “The Leck family can at least visit him and have some hope he’ll get out (of prison) and have some kind of life.”
Both families left the courtroom without speaking to news reporters.
Linda Lorenzo has filed a civil lawsuit against TGI Fridays accusing the restaurant and its operators of serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated Leck in violation of Pennsylvania’s Liquor Code. She is seeking unspecified damages.
TGI Fridays has denied the accusation. A spokesman for the restaurant chain released a printed statement on Monday reiterating the argument that Leck must have consumed alcohol somewhere else after leaving the restaurant. The civil lawsuit was in the discovery phase and essentially on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case. ••