Man gets five to 10 years for causing fatal Philadelphia crash

Posted: July 22, 2012

The prosecutor said Leroy Johnson had no remorse over causing the alcohol-fueled chain-reaction crash last year that killed a man and seriously injured his girlfriend.

Johnson, 54, waiting to be sentenced by a Philadelphia judge, lived up to the billing.

A frown on his face, slumping in his chair, Johnson stared at seven people who made victim-impact statements. He then apologized for "my part of this accident," which he had already tried to blame on one victim, and accused the prosecutor of "assassinating my character and my family."

In sentencing Johnson to five to 10 years in prison, Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi did not mince words: "This was not an accident. 'I'm sorry for my part in the accident'? There is no 'part' of this accident. There is you, totally alone, as the cause because of the choices you made."

In April, a Philadelphia jury found Johnson, of North Philadelphia, guilty of homicide by motor vehicle while driving intoxicated and related assault charges in the February 2011 crash that killed pedestrian Kevin Whye, 42, and injured Inia Withers, 42, as they stood in the median waiting to cross Broad Street at Erie Avenue.

DeFino-Nastasi was required to sentence Johnson to a minimum three- to six-year prison term on the homicide conviction, and defense attorney Geoffrey Kilroy asked for no more than that.

Kilroy cited Johnson's worsening health and said a longer prison term would be "essentially a death sentence."

Johnson's mother, sister, and son pleaded for mercy, calling Johnson a good husband and father who worked 15 years in housekeeping at Temple University Hospital.

But the judge cited the facts that Johnson was intoxicated when he caused the accident and was also on probation from an earlier no-contest plea to assaulting a police officer who had stopped him and found him with drugs in his possession.

DeFino-Nastasi said she did not believe Johnson's claim that he did not know where to go for help with his long-standing dependence on drugs and alcohol: "You worked 15 years at Temple University Hospital."

The judge tacked on two to four years for a count of aggravated assault by vehicle involving Withers, who suffered two broken legs and a broken pelvis.

DeFino-Nastasi ordered Johnson to be on reporting probation for four years after release, including mandatory drug and alcohol testing and treatment. She fined him $1,000 and ordered him to reimburse Whye's family $5,075 in outstanding funeral costs.

Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik had sought a six- to 12-year prison term, citing the number of people traumatized in the accident.

According to Cujdik, the accident occurred Feb. 26, 2011, at 8:20 p.m., after Johnson attended a beef-and-beef fund-raiser at Broad and Erie.

Parked on the northbound side of Broad Street, Johnson made a U-turn across two northbound and two southbound lanes of traffic and hit a car driven by Esther Davis. Davis was returning home from a wedding and had six passengers: two adult women and four young children.

Cujdik said the impact sent Davis' car out of control into the northbound lanes of Broad Street and into Whye and Withers.

Davis' vehicle - with Whye and Withers still on the hood - then hit a parked car containing two women, plowed down a traffic sign, and stopped when it hit a tree. Whye and Withers landed on the north-side sidewalk.

Cujdik said Johnson's blood-alcohol level was 0.20 - more than twice the legal threshold for intoxication. At trial, Johnson's defense was that Davis had struck his car, which the jury rejected with its verdict.

Whye was described as a devoted family man with five children, including a daughter who had just graduated high school.

Davis wept as she described the "nightmare" of watching her car kill someone as it went out of control. She said she still receives therapy for the guilt she feels.

"He tried to blame me," Davis told the judge. "He wouldn't man up to the part he played."


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow @joeslobo on Twitter.

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