Trial begins for Pittsburgh officer accused of DUI fatality
A former Pittsburgh police officer lost control of the motorcycle he drove off-duty after drinking alcohol and struck an oncoming SUV, causing a fatal crash, an accident reconstruction expert testified on Monday.
The Sept. 26, 2010, accident threw Jessica Marie Lojak, a passenger on the Harley-Davidson, about 30 feet. Lojak, 28, of Fawn died in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland about 45 minutes after the 2:30 a.m. crash.
“We did the best we could for her,” said paramedic Johnathan Matteo, who upon arrival found Lojak bleeding internally, with a broken pelvis and chest and head injuries.
Pittsburgh Detective Raymond P. Kain Jr. said the front of the Ford Expedition hit the back of the motorcycle even though the SUV driver “veered three-quarters off the side of the road to avoid the crash.”
The impact vaulted the bike's driver, Adam Lewis, 31, of Lincoln Place about 10 to 15 feet from the crash, Kain said.
Police charged Lewis with homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence, involuntary manslaughter and other driving offenses. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning is hearing his non-jury trial.
The case was delayed several times since a February 2011 preliminary hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Carey said Lewis had a blood-alcohol level of 0.112 percent, above Pennsylvania's legal limit of 0.08 percent, while driving Lojak from a bachelorette party in the South Side.
Lewis, fired from the department in March 2011, was driving between 42 and 51 mph in a 25 mph zone, Carey said.
Lewis' attorney, Bill Difen-derfer, said alcohol was “not a substantial factor in the crash.”
Pittsburgh Officer Katherine Logue testified that the driver of the Expedition passed three field sobriety tests. Officer Glenn Aldridge said the driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.009 percent. The driver later told investigators he had two drinks that day and smoked marijuana. Police did not charge him.
He “was not impaired to the point it would render him incapable of operating a motor vehicle,” Aldridge said.
Pittsburgh Officer James Payne finished a detail shift at Casey's Draft House and saw Lewis on his motorcycle at East Carson Street and the Hot Metal Bridge. Payne, who lives near Lewis, followed him down East Carson and up Mifflin Road. He said Lewis did not appear to be drunk.
A few minutes later, Payne said he saw a Ford Expedition coming toward him with one headlight. The driver leaned out his window and told Payne he had just been in an accident.
“Anytime you're following someone home on a motorcycle and you see a car coming down the road with one headlight, only bad things can happen,” Payne said.
Payne arrived and found Lojak and Lewis unresponsive on the ground and radioed for help. Neither Lewis nor Lojak was wearing a helmet.
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com.