A Levittown man on Tuesday pleaded guilty to the July 8, 2012, wrong-way DUI crash that killed Highway Patrol Officer Brian Lorenzo as he traveled home from work on Interstate 95.
John Leck Jr., 48, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and DUI in exchange for the District Attorney's Office dropping additional charges of involuntary manslaughter and homicide by vehicle.
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Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho presented a wealth of evidence, including eyewitness testimony, crash reconstruction experts and Pennsylvania State Police dashboard camera footage, to prove Leck "acted with a conscious disregard for human life," resulting in the death of Lorenzo, a 23-year force veteran and father of three.
She said Leck ignored multiple traffic signs when he drove his 2010 Audi the wrong way up the Cottman Avenue exit ramp and onto I-95 shortly before 3:15 a.m.
He continued speeding the wrong way on I-95 – traveling south in the northbound lanes – for about a half mile before slamming head-oninto Lorenzo's patrol motorcycle.
"The crash launched Officer Lorenzo up on the car causing him severe injuries, including his leg being severed from his body," Coelho said.
The impact was so vicious that the soles of the officer's boots were torn from his feet and his body landed 21 feet away.
His helmet was recovered 255 feet north of the scene.
Coelho said Leck made no attempt to slow down before the collision.
"In other words, the defendant just drove though the crash," she said.
"He didn't brake or take any other type of evasive maneuver before striking Officer Lorenzo."
She added that even after witnesses told Leck he'd killed a police officer, he refused to get out of his car, which was on fire.
A receipt from a TGI Friday's in Bensalem recovered from Leck showed that before getting into his car that night,he had imbibed three 22-ounce Coors Light beers, one 14-ounce beer and two shots of Pinnacle vodka.
A blood test taken 45 minutes after the crash revealed the man's blood alcohol content to be .218.
Still, Leck did not accept a negotiated plea offered by the District Attorney's Office, which would have meant 10 to 20 years' incarceration.
He instead chose to leave sentencing up to the judge, and now faces a maximum possible penalty of 25 years and 3 months to 50 years and 6 months in jail.
Leck is next due in court Dec. 2 for sentencing.
"Other than bringing Brian back, this was the most positive outcome that could ever happen in this tragedy," Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 president John McNesby said after the hearing.
"It saves the family a lot of anguish, a lot of stress of the trial and hopefully, Dec. 2, the judge will really throw the book at him."
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called the situation "a tragedy all the way around."
"It's all preventable," he said."[Leck] is obviously intoxicated, driving the wrong way on a highway, kills Officer Lorenzo – if it hadn't been Lorenzo, it would have been somebody else. It was just a tragic situation."
He, too, was happy the family was spared a trial.
"This pain, it'll never, ever leave," he said.
"But at least once the guilty plea is in, sentencing is something you can kind of move on [from] because you don't have this cloud hanging over everything with the impending trial and so forth, which has to be incredibly difficult."
He said though the length of the prison term is up to the judge, "it needs to be substantial."
"There is no sentence that you can give that will bring Officer Lorenzo back, unfortunately, but this individual should not go free anytime soon."