Bill Lynch knows the exact route that Officer Brian Lorenzo traveled on the night that a drunk, wrong-way driver struck and killed the Philadelphia Highway Patrol cop on northbound Interstate 95 one year ago.
Lynch, a lieutenant in the Highway unit, and Lorenzo both lived in the Far Northeast and often rode their police motorcycles home together after a shift. They would depart the police station at G and Erie, turn south on I Street, then east on Venango Street. Ultimately, they entered the interstate via Aramingo Avenue.
But the 48-year-old Lorenzo was traveling alone on July 8, 2012. So was his accused killer, John D. Leck, while driving a 2010 Audi luxury sedan with a blood-alcohol content allegedly two-and-a-half times the legal limit.
One year later, neither Leck, nor possible witnesses have revealed his activities in the two hours before the 3:13 a.m. crash near the Cottman Avenue interchange. But court documents in a civil lawsuit filed by Lorenzo’s widow, Linda, suggest that Leck may have patronized either of two Northeast after-hours bars early that morning.
“I want to know the full story. Everybody wants to know the full story,” Lynch said during an interview with the Northeast Times last week. “What was he doing down there [in the Northeast]? Was he just driving around? You can speculate all you want until somebody steps forward and says, ‘He was drinking here,’ until somebody steps forward with a conscience.”
Pennsylvania State Police have led the criminal investigation from the start. They know that Leck, a 47-year-old from Levittown, bought at least six drinks — four beers and two vodkas — at a Bensalem Township restaurant hours before the crash. He closed his bar tab at TGI Fridays on Street Road at 1:16 a.m., records show.
In response to a civil lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court last summer by Linda Lorenzo against Leck and Fridays, attorneys for the restaurant successfully petitioned the court to add two Northeast Philly after-hours clubs as defendants in the case. But Fridays has yet to supply Lorenzo’s attorneys with evidence supporting action against the Yik-Yak Club, at 7215 Torresdale Ave., or Joey O’s Private Club, at 8048 Frankford Ave.
Managers at both clubs did not return messages seeking comment for this article. Fridays, through a public relations firm, declined to tell the Times its justification for identifying the after-hours clubs by name.
“Our focus continues to be on finding where John Leck was drinking in the two-hour time frame between when he left our restaurant and when he caused this horrific accident,” the company said in a prepared statement. “We know by his blood alcohol level he had to have been drinking after he left our restaurant, which is 12 miles from the accident scene. We will provide more information on our court filings as soon as the litigation process allows.”
The civil suit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses Fridays of serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated Leck that night. Fridays denies that Leck was visibly intoxicated at the restaurant. The suit has been largely suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case against Leck, according to attorney James Binns, who represents Linda Lorenzo.
“We are conducting discovery nonetheless,” Binns said. “[But] we haven’t gotten [the information] yet.
“I don’t know what evidence they have.”
Leck is jailed while awaiting trial on third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while DUI, involuntary manslaughter and related offenses. A trial by jury is scheduled to start on Oct. 21 and expected to last one week.
Attorneys representing Leck in the criminal and civil cases did not return messages seeking comment.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police said that the agency is aware of the two after-hours clubs named by Fridays and has investigated whether Leck visited either on the night of the crash.
“We are aware there are after-hours bars in the area [of the crash],” said Cpl. Gerry McShea. “We obviously have to look into those locations.
“No new leads have become apparent to help us identify where he was.”
Nonetheless, both after-hours clubs have numerous liquor license violations on record with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and one of them — the Yik Yak Club — may have been shut down for good following a June 22 raid there, according to Sgt. Dan Steele of the state police’s liquor enforcement branch.
Agents arrested three club employees early that morning, alleging that they sold alcohol after permitted hours and operated a “speakeasy.” All offenses are misdemeanors. Administrative action against the liquor license holder is expected, Steele said.
Under Pennsylvania liquor laws, most bars must stop serving alcohol by 2 a.m. All patrons must leave by 2:30 a.m. Both the Yik Yak and Joey O’s hold club licenses, allowing them to serve patrons for an extra hour. But admission to the clubs must be restricted to registered members and their guests. Under the law, patrons must sign a registry upon entry.
The term speakeasy refers to an after-hours bar that operates outside the parameters of the liquor license. Commonly, patrons can enter and buy drinks without a membership.
Despite the public name of the Yik Yak Club, the liquor license is registered to The United Independent Italian American Club of the City of Philadelphia. Property tax records show that a company, CMJ Properties LLC, owns the building. No further contact information is recorded for CMJ.
The club has been fined for violations 10 times since 2000 and suspended four times, Steele said. Most recently, the club was suspended from May 20 to June 3 and ordered to pay a $4,000 fine resulting from an August 2012 raid by liquor agents. The club sold alcohol to non-members, sold alcohol after 3 a.m., allowed patrons to possess alcohol after 3:30 a.m. and failed to evacuate the property by 3:30 a.m.
With that case pending, agents raided the club again in January and cited it for the same violations as well as gambling on the premises. The Liquor Control Board has yet to issue a final judgment on that case.
On June 29, the administrator of the club’s Facebook page posted the inquiry, “Need some input on what the club will be in 3-6 months. Go.”
Salty responses included a methadone clinic, a flophouse for homeless, a marijuana dispensary and a vacant building. One poster recommended a torture chamber for state police and liquor enforcement agents.
Notwithstanding the pending violations, the club’s liquor license is due to expire on Oct. 31. Most license holders have to apply for renewals every two years, Steele said.
The license for Joey O’s is issued to the Vagabond Athletic Association. The club formerly operated under the “Vagabond” name. According to Steele, the club has a much shorter list of violations. The LCB fined the club in 1997, fined and suspended it in October 2011 and suspended it in July 2012. Steele was unable to access details from the case file.
Lynch and his colleagues in the Highway Patrol have nothing to do with liquor license enforcement and they’re under no illusion that one officer’s death will change the behavior patterns of drunk drivers, although the officers hope the tragedy of their colleague’s death will resonate with motorists.
As for Leck, he has maintained that he doesn’t remember where he went after TGI Fridays that night, according to evidence in the criminal case, leaving Lorenzo’s family and colleagues with many unanswered questions. ••