Medic Driver Tells Of Night Willard Died He Said He Didn't See The State Trooper Accused Of Giving A False Report.

Posted: August 21, 1997

An emergency crew waited for more than an hour for state police to arrive at the Blue Route exit ramp where Aimee Willard's abandoned car was found with its engine running, headlights shining, and a pool of blood nearby, an ambulance driver testified yesterday in Delaware County Court.

David Sweigart's account came as he testified for the prosecution on the second day of the criminal trial of former State Trooper Harold Ryan Hutchinson, accused of giving false reports to investigators about what he saw on the night of the Willard killing, June 20, 1996.

Sweigart testified that he did not see Hutchinson after his crew arrived on the scene. But throughout yesterday's proceedings, Hutchinson's lawyer sought to shift the trial's focus onto what he contends was a slipshod investigation into Willard's death.

Sweigart said the first law enforcement presence at the scene was a Marple Township patrol car that arrived at 3 a.m. That was roughly an hour, Sweigart said, after his unit had called a police dispatcher upon discovering Willard's empty car and noticing the blood. Two state police cars, with one officer each, followed about 15 minutes later, he said.

Sgt. Tim Allue, a spokesman for the state police in Harrisburg, said that having one or two officers on a midnight shift, which typically runs from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., is not uncommon. State police are typically apportioned on the basis of how many calls a barracks handles, and their severity, he said.

Sweigart, an emergency-team technician with Keystone Quality Transport, testified that after he arrived, ``we sat in the vehicle, we had on our spotlights, and we were looking outside to see whether we saw anybody.'' Sweigart said his watchdog role lasted from roughly 2 to 3 a.m. on the night Willard died.

No one has been charged in the murder of Willard, a 22-year-old college student who left a Main Line bar after midnight and was never seen alive again. Her body was found later that day, about 4 p.m., in a vacant lot in North Philadelphia.

Trooper Joseph J. Palya of the Belmont barracks, which covers the Blue Route, testified that he was at the scene of a tractor-trailer accident at Route 202 and Interstate 76 at the time the emergency crew was waiting for police at the Willard scene. Palya told First Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDevitt that he spoke briefly with Hutchinson at the accident scene about 2 a.m. Hutchinson, who was off-duty at the time, had earlier met a friend at the King of Prussia Mall, according to his own statement to police.

Palya said under cross-examination that he did not become aware of the Willard car discovery until he returned to his barracks after 6 a.m. In the 4 1/2 hours that he was at the accident site, he said, he never got a call to provide backup.

Hutchinson's Philadelphia lawyer, Ari S. Moldovsky, maintains that his client is being made a scapegoat for the failures of investigators. Moldovsky contends that the investigation has been so riddled with poor police work - and possible foul play - that it is impossible to rely on police accounts of Hutchinson's whereabouts.

Hutchinson, in the allegedly false statement that he made to his superiors on July 10, 1996, said he saw an Upper Providence police car parked behind Willard's Honda Civic between 1:45 and 1:50 a.m. on the night she died. On July 15, however, Hutchinson was summoned for questioning by Cpl. Tedescung Bandy, the lead investigator in the Willard case. By then, Bandy testified yesterday, he was beginning to have doubts about the veracity of some of Hutchinson's claims.

At the July 15 meeting, Bandy testified, Hutchinson altered his initial account, saying he had omitted mention of another vehicle at the Willard site, along with two other people, whom he did not identify. In a statement read by Bandy, Hutchinson explained: ``I knew it was false information, but I just thought I could possibly assist with the investigation.''

Asked why he had waited 20 days to tell investigators what he saw, Hutchinson, according to Bandy, said: ``I guess what I saw, what I observed and what I comprehended wasn't very important.''

Under cross-examination by Moldovsky, Bandy acknowledged that the Willard investigation was his first ``active homicide'' case. He added, at another point, that his investigators had failed to probe deeply enough to definitively rule out all of Hutchinson's assertions.

When Moldovsky asked, ``Sir, did you or anyone you are aware of speak to all the Upper Providence officers who were on duty that night?'' Bandy replied: ``No, sir.''

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