Fired Phila. officer to be tried for vehicular homicide

Posted: February 07, 2014

Police Sgt. Thomas Winkis had been doing shots with a friend in a Northeast Philadelphia tavern before he got behind the wheel of his Dodge Challenger, barreled down the road at 100 m.p.h., and slammed into a Ford van, fatally injuring a 55-year-old Fishtown man last summer, the friend testified Wednesday.

Gina D'emilio, 26, told Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons that she and Winkis, 46, left the bar together about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 14. She told the court that she was drunk: She had been doing shots, and also had wine and a gin tonic. Winkis, she said, had kept pace with her - beers and shots.

Once in the car, she testified, she saw the speedometer hit 100 before they reached State Road. Winkis then turned onto State, and she heard the rev of the Challenger's engine and caught a glimpse of the van crossing in front of them at Ashburner Street just before the crash.

"I saw the air bag in front of me, and fire," she testified, explaining that the Challenger's engine burst into flames after the impact.

The speed limit on State Road is 35 m.p.h.

The accident left the driver of the van, David H. Farries, a father of four, with traumatic head injuries. He died three days later at Aria Health-Torresdale Campus.

Winkis, a 21-year police veteran and a former aide to Deputy Commissioner Thomas Wright, was fired late last fall.

Officer William Lackman of the Accident Investigation Division said the Challenger's "black box" computer indicated that the car hit the van at 101.5 m.p.h. He said the computer showed that in the five seconds before the crash, the car's velocity jumped sharply.

"He was going more than three times the speed limit," Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb said.

Winkis' blood alcohol level was 0.10 percent, Lipscomb said. The legal definition of drunken driving is above 0.08 percent.

Winkis' attorney, Fortunato N. Perri Jr., stressed that the Challenger's computer system had gotten soaked when firefighters extinguished the blaze in the car's engine.

The accident happened a week after Winkis' former wife, Michelle Winkis, died. She also was a veteran police officer. She died from a brain aneurysm while on duty in the 26th District, which covers Kensington and Fishtown.

Simmons ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed against Winkis on all charges, including homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and driving while under the influence of alcohol.


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