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Trial in limbo 2 years after crash that killed Fawn woman

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Jessica Marie Lojak

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Jodi Weigand and Chuck Biedka
Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, 1:26 a.m.
 

FAWN — Two years after her friend died in a fatal motorcycle crash, Dara Lesser wonders why the man accused in the death still hasn't gone to trial.

Jessica Marie Lojak, of Fawn was a passenger on a motorcycle operated by off-duty Pittsburgh Patrolman Adam M. Lewis that crashed early Sept. 26, 2010. The crash occurred on Mifflin Road in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lincoln Place, which borders West Mifflin.

Lojak was 28 and was to be a bridesmaid for Lewis' wedding two weeks later.

But the licensed practical nurse died hours later in UPMC Presbyterian hospital, Pittsburgh.

Lesser, who attended nursing school with Lojak, asks why there have been so many delays.

“It's been two years. I mean I understand you're not going to get to trial the next week if something happens,” said Lesser, 42, of Penn Hills. “It just keeps getting put off, and I sincerely believe that it's because of Adam's job.

“I would think if it would be someone like myself, and I had a 0.112 (percent) blood-alcohol level, it certainly wouldn't have been two years of me just living my life,” Lesser said.

Some homicide cases proceed quicker than others. For instance, a Nov. 10, 2010, case involving the death of a wildlife conservation officer near Gettysburg only went to trial this week. Delays occur for any number of reasons.

Jessica's parents, Laura and Edward Lojak, didn't return calls for comment.

Lesser said a prosecutor asked the Lojak family not to talk about the case.

“It's heartbreaking,” Lesser said.

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said the bureau fired Lewis on March 1, 2011.

According to court records, on Feb. 28, 2011, Lewis waived homicide by vehicle while under the influence and 10 other charges.

He was scheduled to have a jury trial on Sept. 19, 2011. But when Lewis requested a non-jury trial, the case was transferred to another judge and rescheduled for about six months later, to March 12, 2012.

The case was delayed to June 11, and again to Monday.

But Lesser said Jessica's mother received a letter saying that trial won't begin Monday. Instead, that will be the day that a new trial date is set.

Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., would only confirm that there is a delay in the case. He would not discuss a pending case further.

William Difenderfer, who represents Lewis, said a crucial witness isn't available for Monday. Difenderfer said the trial date “may not be until January.'

“The delays haven't been excessive,” Difenderfer said. “It's progressing about as fast as it can, and the judge wants a trial date.”

Difenderfer said he isn't surprised that the dead woman's mother allegedly has been asked by a prosecutor not to talk to reporters about the case or her daughter.

“It's not unusual,” he said.Lesser said Jessica's death has been devastating.

She said Lojak's mother “just feels like she can't go on,” Lesser said. “She is just beaten down.”

Jodi Weigand and Chuck Biedka are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Weigand can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. Biedka can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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