Widow wants answers in death of Moorestown officer

Posted: June 08, 2014

Carrie Berner keeps a binder filled with more than 1,000 pages of investigative reports she has collected since her husband died on the side of the road in Moorestown less than a year ago.

Craig Berner, 52, a Moorestown patrolman for 26 years, was thrown from his motorcycle while off duty and struck by a pickup on a winding stretch of Westfield Road about 10 p.m. July 27.

The pickup driver was Detective Sgt. William McGovern of the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. His connection to law enforcement has left Berner's widow questioning whether a proper investigation was conducted.

"He was never held accountable for what he did," said Berner, mother of the couple's two teenage children. "I just want to see justice served."

To avoid any conflicts of interest, Moorestown and Burlington County officials turned all evidence over to state police and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office to investigate.

The Prosecutor's Office conducted an accident investigation and closed the case this year, bringing no charges.

"Through a complete and thorough investigation by both agencies, which included state police accident-reconstruction specialists, we concluded there was no evidence whatsoever that indicated William McGovern committed any crime or motor vehicle violation," Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said Thursday.

Faulk said the entire file was also sent to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office to review for administrative charges. Joel Bewley, spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, said his office would have no comment.

On June 16, the Berner family will hold a vigil at 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Field on Church Street in Moorestown for the 1979 graduate of Moorestown High, a former Marine and former police officer in Guam. They hope others will attend and offer support to have the investigation reopened.

Carrie Berner has reached out to legislators and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, asking to have the case reopened. She also sought help from the New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center, which recently released a 56-page report questioning the integrity of the initial investigation.

"Was he treated differently than the average citizen because he was a cop?" asked Richard Pompelio, an attorney for the law center and author of the report. "When you look back and see the way things were done, and hindsight is 20/20, things were not done properly."

Reached at the Prosecutor's Office on Thursday, McGovern said he had no comment.

On July 27, Berner had worked a 12-hour shift before returning home to have dinner and spend time with his family, Carrie Berner said. Shortly before 9 p.m., he left on his motorcycle to go to his print-screen business nearby. Afterward, he chatted a while with another officer. He was going to stop at Wegmans before returning home, his wife said.

According to the law center report, McGovern, 61, of Mount Laurel, had been with friends at a barbecue for several hours and then stopped at a bar in Medford.

The two men were driving in opposite directions when they crossed paths on Westfield Road near Bridgeboro Road. It's unclear why, but Berner abruptly braked on his Honda, skidded straight, and was thrown into the opposite lane.

McGovern was westbound in his Ford F-150 pickup when he struck Berner, who was partly on the road and shoulder.

McGovern and other passersby stopped and called in the accident. When a Moorestown patrolman arrived, he allowed McGovern to leave and return shortly afterward. Pompelio said police reports showed it appeared there was an attempt to clean the truck.

Pompelio said police should have given McGovern a sobriety test immediately and taken him for a blood test. It wasn't until six hours later that blood was drawn, Pompelio said. Blood-test results showed no evidence that McGovern had been drinking, according to the report and Pompelio.

Moorestown Lt. Lee Lieber said the department stands by Faulk's decision. He referred further comment about the investigation to that office but spoke briefly about the effect of Berner's death on the Police Department.

"It hurt us deeply," he said. "I worked with Craig for his whole career."


856-779-3838 @BBBoyer

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