Northeast Times

Driver sentenced in accident that killed cop

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. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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