'Chance encounter' was fatal to Burlco police officer

Patrolman Craig Berner, 52, died in a motorcycle accident.
Patrolman Craig Berner, 52, died in a motorcycle accident.
Posted: July 31, 2013

Authorities are investigating a fatal accident in which a police officer fell off his motorcycle and was struck by a county detective in a pickup truck on a dark road in Moorestown when both were off duty.

"It was a chance encounter" between the two veteran law enforcement officers, said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, referring to the Saturday crash. "It was through random chance they were on the road at the same time."

His office is handling the probe to avoid any conflict of interest. The motorcyclist, Craig Berner, 52, was a patrolman with the Moorestown Police Department for 26 years, while William McGovern, 60, of Mount Laurel, is a detective sergeant with the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.

"We don't want to have any hint of any type of conflict since it involved one of our officers and an officer with the Prosecutor's Office," said Lt. Lee Lieber, spokesman for the Moorestown police.

Though Moorestown police initially responded to the scene, on a rural stretch of Westfield Avenue near Bridgeboro Road, the investigation was turned over to the New Jersey state police and then to the Camden prosecutor.

Lieber said Berner was "a longtime motorcycle enthusiast" who also was a firearms instructor and a field training officer. "He was always upbeat. . . . He had a laugh that was distinctive and loud and that you could hear across the station."

Moorestown Mayor Stacey Jordan said she thought it had been two decades since the town had lost a police officer. "It's a sad day for Moorestown because, obviously, he was a valued member of the town," she said.

Laughlin said his office would look into whether speed or alcohol played a role and would investigate "the totality of the circumstances" of the 10 p.m. accident.

Laughlin said that it appears Berner "fell off his bike, slid into oncoming traffic and was struck by the truck." Berner's death was caused by being run over, he said.

Berner was on a 1995 Honda, traveling eastbound, while McGovern drove a Ford F-150 westbound.

Laughlin said McGovern stayed at the scene and called 911. Berner was pronounced dead at the scene.

"We don't know why he had a problem with his bike that led to his falling off his bike," Laughlin said. He said there were no known "adverse conditions" that night or at that location, but the road has few streetlights and is very dark.

Laughlin said he did not know the destination of either man at the time.

McGovern, who has been in law enforcement for 23 years, was a Laurel Springs police officer in Camden County before he joined the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office in 1990. Pending the results of the investigation, he is on administrative leave with pay, said Joel Bewley, spokesman for the Burlington County office.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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