70-year-old Diana Weaver had just left a 10 a.m. hair appointment with a fresh new style when she was killed in a head-on collision earlier this month on Route 322 in Honey Brook.

Weaver, of West Chester, spent the morning of May 7 drinking coffee and talking about family with her longtime stylist, Deanna Helm. She left the salon with a smile on her face, but minutes later she was gone.

“She came in early and we sat at the table and drank coffee and talked. She decided to do something new and different with her hair. I gave her a new style and she looked awesome! The whole time we talked about our families and her Easter egg hunt that she loved. She left the salon at 10:37 with a smile on her face and her coffee in hand. We said our ‘see you soons’ and she was gone. My heart is broken,” Helm said days after the crash.

Twelve minutes later Weaver’s small sedan collided with a pickup truck driven by 51-year-old Honey Brook resident Kenneth Haldeman Jr. on Route 322 just west of Chestnut Tree Road, according to state police. Investigators said Haldeman’s truck crossed over the road’s center line just before the crash, and both marijuana and heroin was found in his possession.

Law enforcement officials said Haldeman also later admitted to snorting Xanax, a powerful anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, prior to the crash.

Jim Parker, a resident of West Caln, told the Daily Local News that he was driving behind Haldeman’s truck on Route 82 just minutes before the crash. Parker said the 1989 Ford Bronco was all over the road, and that he feared the erratic driving would lead to tragedy.

“I knew something bad was going to happen. He swerved into oncoming traffic four times, once crossing all the way off the road on the left side. He was milliseconds away from a head on (collision) at least twice,” Parker said. “One time he went completely off the road to the right and was headed for a pole. I actually said to myself out loud that I hoped he would hit the pole before he killed someone, but the lucky bastard recovered in time to avoid that.”

Parker said he watched, fearfully, as the truck turned onto Route 322. Minutes later, Haldeman’s luck ran out.

According to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, Weaver was the third person to die in the county this year in a crash that resulted in charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence. Several other victims have suffered grave injuries and remain hospitalized, and law enforcement officials say it is a problem that appears to be getting worse.

On April 14, Parkesburg resident Bruce Oas died when a pickup truck crossed over Route 10’s center line and collided with the 51-year-old’s vehicle in Sadsbury. On Thursday officials with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that police found multiple heroin packets in the possession of 19-year-old Bradley Piffin, the driver of the pickup.

Officials said charges in that crash are pending the results of toxicology tests.

On March 8 a woman lost her unborn child after she was involved in a crash on Route 202 in Birmingham. Law enforcement officials say another vehicle, driven 29-year-old Garnett Valley resident Remington Simmons, collided with the woman’s vehicle from the rear at a speed in excess of 100 miles per hour.

The woman, who officials said was 8-months pregnant at the time of the crash, was ejected through her car’s sunroof. She survived, but her child did not. Investigators determined that Simmons was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Because the victim’s unborn child could have been delivered and survived outside the womb, prosecutors charged Simmons with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and related charges following the crash.

Simmons, who was arrested in late April and released after posting 10 percent of $100,000 bail, is still awaiting a preliminary hearing on the charges.

Local law enforcement leaders say fatal DUIs are unfortunately not uncommon, but also noted that the number of incidents in recent months appears above normal.

“Unfortunately there is always a steady drumbeat of homicide by vehicle while DUI (cases), that is just an unfortunate fact of life in Chester County. People drive a lot, we are a very spread out county, and when people drink and drive, particularly with our twisting roads system, you’re going to have a certain amount of homicide by vehicle while DUIs,” said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “That being said, there is definitely an uptick that we have seen in the last year or two. It’s an uptick both in a number of incidents and in the number of arrests.”

Hogan said the much more widespread abuse of prescription drugs and heroin have factored into the increase. Prescription drugs have hit the eastern and southern sections of the county “pretty hard,” but heroin has become a major problem across the county, region, and nation, according to Hogan.

The crashes that killed both Weaver and Oas occurred during the mid-morning hours of a weekday, and both appear to involve heroin. Officials like Hogan say incidents like these defy what most people typically think of when they consider the dangers of impaired driving.

“Those drugs hit the system very hard, they hit young people very hard, but they also addict people so once you get on them, you’re going to be on them for a long time,” Hogan said. “Unlike alcohol, where you see a lot of these DUIs happening at night after people go out and have a few pops, the heroin folks, they shoot up all day long, and get in the car all day long. So you’re just as likely to get killed by them during the day as you are at 2 in the morning.”

Hogan said the sheer randomness of fatal DUI crashes causes is what makes them so frightening. In many crashes, like the ones recently in Chester County, the collisions occur after an impaired driver veers into the opposite lane with no warning.

“Homicide by vehicle while DUI, from the standpoint of law enforcement, is one of the most frightening crimes out there because of the sheer randomness. If you’re a drug dealer, you know that getting murdered is part of the risk of your life, but homicide while vehicle can happen to anybody, anywhere,” Hogan said. “

The district attorney said law enforcement uses a variety of tools to target DUIs of all types, but that the surge in prescription drug and heroin abuse makes it more difficult to take offenders off the streets before a crash occurs.

“Every member of law enforcement tells every member of their family, if you’re out driving you have to stay alert because you never know when that pickup truck is going to come out of nowhere and total you. You wont see it coming, there is no reason for you to see it coming, and there is really no defense against it. So it is really one of the scariest crimes out there, because it can hit anyone, anywhere, at any time,” Hogan said.

Police frequently conduct DUI checkpoints and roving patrols across the county, but those are typically conducted late at night on weekends. Hogan said traditional drug enforcement efforts likely reduce the number of fatal crashes by taking users of the streets before they have an opportunity to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

“Because of that random nature it is very difficult to have a foolproof way of catching these folks ahead of time. Law enforcement does a lot of proactive things like DUI enforcement sweeps, it’s also one of the reasons we have so many people out on the roads, to look for people like this,” Hogan said. “Anybody who is using heroin and is driving at all is a potential homicide by vehicle while DUI, but that being said it’s a difficult area of the law to stop.”

That has not stopped law enforcement from trying, though.

After serial drunk driver Robert Landis pleaded guilty to his eighth DUI, which killed 24-year-old motorcyclist Liam Crowley, local law enforcement officials announced proposed legislation that would target multiple DUI offenders who cause a fatal crash. Landis received an 8-17 year state prison sentence on May 7, the day Weaver was killed.

Hogan acknowledged the public anger that was clearly visible after Landis was sentenced, and said the proposed legislation is an effort to meet the demand for harsher penalties.

“I looked back at the comments that were put up after the Landis sentencing in the Daily Local News, and you could see the visceral anger of people even though Landis got pretty much the top end of what he could get, people are still angry and say ‘there is a guy who should go away for life,’” he said.

Landis was driving on a suspended license in a truck insured by his elderly mother. Information about the ignition interlock system, sent by PennDOT, was found in his truck after the crash. He never applied for the program.

“With a guy like Landis, the only way to stop him from driving is to lock him up and throw away the key. If you put ignition interlock in his car he’s going to have someone else blow into it. If you take away his license he’s going to drive anyway. You make it impossible for him to get insurance he’s going to get in insured by someone else. There is always going to be some way that these guys are going to find a way to still drink and drive, until they kill somebody,” Hogan said. “That is why we’ve gone to the legislature and said the only answer for somebody like this is to warehouse them. For that period of time that defendant will not be able to kill anybody.”

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. John Rafferty and state Sen. Dominc Pileggi, is currently in committee in the state legislature.

Source: Daily Local News


Last updated on: 2014-05-20 | Link to this post