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Crafton cop turns himself in after fatal hit-and-run two years ago

| Sunday, July 5, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

As 24-year-old David Hall lay dead in the street, off-duty Crafton police Officer Donnie L. Breeden stood nearby with a group of friends who asked the gathering crowd if anyone had seen what happened, according to a police affidavit released Saturday.

Confident that nobody but his buddies knew he had struck the young man with his sports utility vehicle, Breeden told his friends:

"I'm a cop. I can't go to jail. If I go to jail, I will kill myself. I'm getting out of here. No one knows I did this, so I am getting out of here," the affidavit stated.

But his friends did know — after leaving a bar in Green Tree that night, July 20, 2007, he called one of them on his cell phone and said he'd just "struck a person with his vehicle on West Carson Street," according to a police affidavit of probable cause that supports criminal charges filed Friday against Breeden.

Hall, a developmentally delayed Moon resident, was pronounced dead at the scene.

One of the friends who was there that night sat in a conference room at Pittsburgh police headquarters on Wednesday and told homicide investigators that Breeden — who had been drinking that night — struck Hall with his vehicle and then fled the scene, the affidavit states. The witness said that two days after the accident, friends helped Breeden fix the damage to his sport utility vehicle, and that for nearly two years Breeden continued to drive the vehicle, the affidavit states.

Pittsburgh police arrested Breeden, 38, a 15-year veteran of the Crafton Police Department, Friday morning when he turned himself in at police headquarters on the North Side. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving a vehicle involved in an accident causing death or personal injury.

Breeden remained in Allegheny County Jail last night. His attorney, Bill Difenderfer, did not return phone messages. Nobody answered the door at Breeden's Green Tree home.

The affidavit does not explain why Breeden's friend — identified only as "Witness 1" — spoke to police.

"The true identity of this known, but unnamed eyewitness is being withheld to ensure his/her safety and to preserve the integrity of this ongoing investigation," the affidavit states. "... Unnamed eyewitnesses will be available to testify at all court proceedings."

David Hall used to take the bus from his Moon home to Achieva Pittsburgh, a nonprofit agency that works with people with disabilities.

The night he died, he was struck first by Breeden's vehicle and then by two others in the westbound lane of Carson Street near the Duquesne Incline, police said. Hall had stepped into the traffic lanes to ask a Port Authority bus driver in a stopped bus when the bus to Moon would come.

Breeden and friends were drinking that night at Hop House, a bar on Noblestown Road in Green Tree, then decided to head to the South Side. Breeden went alone; the others followed shortly after in a different car, the police affidavit states.

After Breeden hit Hall and fled the scene, the group met at a friend's home in Green Tree, the affidavit states. Breeden's girlfriend, who is not identified, also was there, the affidavit states.

"They all talked about the accident on West Carson Street, " the police affidavit said. "Breeden asked everyone what he should do. ... Breeden was going back and forth on whether he should turn himself in."

A couple days later, all of the friends there that night went to Breeden's home to fix the damage to the SUV, a 2003 Chevy Trailblazer. According to the affidavit, Breeden's windshield was broken, a right headlight was damaged, the right front corner of the hood was dented and the right side mirror was hanging off.

They installed a new windshield, replaced the headlight, taped up the side mirror, "and attached a bug reflector to the front of the hood to help hide the dent to the right corner," the affidavit states.

"Witness 1 informed the detectives that Donnie Breeden is still driving the same SUV that he was driving the day of the accident," the affidavit states.

At a news conference Friday, Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant said police examined Breeden's SUV and found areas that have been repaired.

Witness 1 identified Breeden out of a photo lineup, circled the photo and wrote on it, "I think I hit a person, I can't go to jail," then signed and dated it, the affidavit states.

At the press conference Friday, Bryant said Breeden's actions were a "slap in the face for every police officer who honors the badge."

"All he had to do was stop, if he had been drinking or if he hadn't been drinking, you stop, you render aid and you wait for officers to arrive. He chose to keep going and keep it a secret all this time. ... I guess he figured he'd take his chances," Bryant said.

Breeden earned a bachelor's degree in criminology in 1992. He graduated from the Allegheny County Police Academy in 1993, served as a patrolman in Oakdale and Stowe, then joined the Crafton force in 1994. He was a member of the District Attorney Drug Task Force from 2002 to 2006.

In 1996, an East Carnegie man driving a stolen car briefly dragged Breeden along the street when Breeden's arm got caught inside as he tried to force the gear shift into park. The incident was captured on a video camera mounted in Breeden's patrol car and was believed to be the first time such evidence was used in a criminal case in Allegheny County.

The Crafton Police Department referred all questions to Pittsburgh police and borough officials. Crafton Mayor Susan O'Connell said Friday that Breeden has been with the department for 15 years and remains on the force for now.

Hall's family recalled their son as a good-hearted and eager to please.

"I imagine that man has had quite a burden he's been carrying for a while," Robert Hall said the day of the arrest. "If he's a good man, that has got to have been really painful. Maybe it's a relief for him now. At least, I hope that's what's happening."

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