Driver to stand trial for crash that killed highway officer
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. ••