Former Pittsburgh officer guilty of DUI in crash that killed passenger
A former Pittsburgh police officer whose motorcycle passenger died as a result of a head-on collision with an SUV is guilty of homicide by vehicle and other offenses, an Allegheny County judge ruled on Tuesday.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning found Adam Lewis, 31, of Lincoln Place not guilty of the more serious crime of homicide by vehicle while under the influence, a second-degree felony with a three-year minimum prison sentence. Lewis is guilty of involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence and summary offenses. He will be placed on electronic monitoring until his sentencing on Jan. 6.
Lewis was charged in the Sept. 26, 2010, death of Jessica Marie Lojak, 28, of Fawn.
“It's much easier for a fact-finder to deal with cases of evil,” Manning said, providing examples like Richard Poplawski, the Stanton Heights man who killed three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009. “That's not what we have here. This was the death of a beautiful, vibrant young woman celebrating her friend's future wedding, a death unintended, as so many traffic accidents are.”
Manning said there is “no doubt” alcohol played a part in Lojak's death, but prosecutors failed to prove it was a direct cause. Instead, he said, it was Lewis' speed of 15 to 20 mph over the 25 mph limit on a curving road at night on a motorcycle that was more of a factor as he drove her from a bachelorette party.
“Life disappears in the twinkle of an eye, and the judicial is left to define what that is,” Manning said.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Carey said Lewis had a blood- alcohol level of 0.108 percent when he drove his motorcycle from the South Side to his home in Lincoln Place with Lojak as his passenger. The state's legal blood- alcohol limit is 0.08 percent.
Carey said Lewis was driving at least 41 mph in a 25 mph zone when he struck a Ford Expedition that was traveling in the opposite direction.
Lewis' nonjury trial began Sept. 16 but was interrupted for about a week because of scheduling conflicts. Manning deliberated for six days.
“These things are gut-wrenching for the victims in these kind of cases where there are no winners,” said Lewis' defense attorney, William Difenderfer, who had argued his client crashed into the SUV because he overcorrected when Lojak did not properly shift her weight into a turn, throwing the motorcycle off balance.
Manning said he didn't buy that argument, and it was possible Lojak shifted her weight when she realized Lewis was taking too sharp of a lean “in an attempt to save them both.”
Lojak died in UPMC Presbyterian of blunt-force trauma to her chest and head.
Difenderfer said he expects his client to serve jail time. Lewis was fired from the Pittsburgh police department in March 2011.
Ryan Lojak, 21, Jessica Lojak's brother, said his sister was the only woman in the house after his parents' divorce.
“She was like a second mom to me,” he said. “Nothing he gets is going to bring my sister back.”
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.