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Former Allegheny County police officer charged in hit-and-run death

Timothy Tatters Sr. of White Oak in a Facebook profile picture.

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By Bill Vidonic
Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 11:16 a.m.
 

Investigators did not have enough evidence to charge a retired Allegheny County police officer with homicide or manslaughter for hitting and killing a mentally ill woman who was walking on a McKeesport highway, police said.

Timothy Tatters Sr., 64, is charged with leaving the scene of an accident and careless driving in the death of Lorraine Wilkes, 56. Police believe alcohol was involved in the hit-and-run on Wednesday, said police Lt. Andrew Schurman, but they could not prove it to bring a more serious charge.

Tatters said on Friday that he believes Wilkes might have jumped in front of him as he drove on Lysle Boulevard.

“Either that, or she was lying on the road, below hood level, because the damage is primarily down on my bumper,” he said.

Tatters insisted he was not drunk at the time of the accident.

Schurman said Tatters did not receive special treatment before he was arrested at his White Oak home on Friday morning and released on a $100,000 unsecured bond.

Tatters was a county officer for more than 21 years, family members said, and retired in 1993 because of heart problems.

“We don't want to delay, but we don't want to rush to judgment either,” Schurman said.

Tatters told investigators that he was at the Country Corral Bar in McKeesport for 11 hours — from 2:30 p.m. Tuesday until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday — and drank three 16-ounce beers. He left the bar with his daughter-in-law, who is training as a bartender, and drove her home to Glassport, where he spent time with her and his grandson before going home.

Wilkes was struck between 4 and 4:45 a.m. at Lysle Boulevard and Huey Street, and police said the impact threw her into shrubs. She died about three hours later in UPMC Mercy, Uptown, with multiple injuries to the head, trunk and extremities, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said.

Tatters told investigators that he thought he had hit a dog. Once he arrived home, he said, he checked his Jeep Cherokee for damage and assumed he must have struck a deer.

Wilkes, whom police said suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia, was about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed about 320 pounds.

Police used parts of vehicle wreckage at the scene to identify the make and model of the Jeep Cherokee that struck Wilkes and put out a description to the public. One of Tatters' neighbors saw the reports and called investigators.

Investigators did not test Tatters' blood for the presence of drugs or alcohol because they did not identify him as a suspect or interview him until 12 hours after the accident, police said.

“There is no homicide charge because there is no way to prove how the accident actually took place, given that there is no way to reconstruct the events or timeline connected to the accident,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Tatters was charged with drunken driving in December 2009 by Uniontown police, according to court records. He was sentenced to a probationary program for first-time offenders. His probation expired in 2011.

Wilkes lived at Mon Yough Community Services near where she was struck and killed, police said.

James Andrews, who is risk manager there, declined to discuss Wilkes specifically but said the facility houses people with mental illness. It is not a locked-down building, and staff members don't prevent residents from leaving, he said.

“She was a beautiful person,” said Helen Haskins, 55, a resident of the facility. “She would always sit on the patio to smoke, and she'd write poetry.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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