Vigil held for Moorestown officer

Carrie Berner , widow of Craig Berner, an off-duty Moorestown officer who was killed in a motorcycle accident last year, is embraced during a vigil at Memorial Field. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
Carrie Berner , widow of Craig Berner, an off-duty Moorestown officer who was killed in a motorcycle accident last year, is embraced during a vigil at Memorial Field. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer

Many attendees want a new investigation of the accident that caused his death.

Posted: June 18, 2014

Friends and relatives recalled Craig Berner - a Moorestown patrolman fatally struck by a truck while off duty - as one of the good guys, who would help even a turtle in need.

Berner, a member of the township police department for 26 years, died nearly a year ago on his way to a store when he was thrown from his motorcycle and struck by a pickup truck.

Several dozen people gathered Monday evening at Memorial Field on South Church Street for a candlelight vigil to honor Berner and garner support to reopen a criminal investigation into Berner's death.

Although there were many references to the pickup driver, a sergeant for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, he was not named Monday.

About 10 p.m. July 27, the two were traveling in opposite directions on Westfield Road. Berner's motorcycle left skid marks as he tried to stop.

According to police reports, the other vehicle, driven by William McGovern, struck Berner, whose body was dragged before McGovern pulled over in his Ford F-150 pickup. McGovern was among those who called 911. Berner was pronounced dead at the scene.

To avoid conflicts of interest, the New Jersey state police and Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigated the accident. Those who spoke at Monday's vigil criticized the investigation.

"In our opinion, the man responsible for Craig's death committed criminal acts," said Richard Pompelio, an attorney for the New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center. Last week, Pompelio released a report raising numerous questions, which he listed Monday night:

Why was McGovern permitted to leave the scene of the accident? When he returned, why was he permitted to walk around the crime scene? Why was he not given a sobriety test? Why was no one charged when evidence showed the truck had been wiped down after the accident?

"We will not rest, we will not sit, until justice is done," Pompelio said, urging those at the vigil to sign a petition supporting a new investigation.

Last week, Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said that the accident was fully investigated and that there were no grounds to file charges. The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and McGovern declined to comment.

According to police reports, McGovern had been drinking earlier in the evening, and Moorestown police documented that McGovern smelled of alcohol. Blood drawn six hours after the accident showed no evidence of alcohol, the records show.

Berner's wife, Carrie, and the couple's two children attended Monday's vigil, along with neighbors and friends who noted that though Berner was with the force for 26 years, no officers attended.

Neighbors Tracy and John Shields said those who knew and loved the Berner family were disappointed by how the township had let the family down.

"I would like to see justice done," said Lizanne Lorusso, a family friend. "Reopen the case to determine whether any crimes were committed. Is there a wall of silence?"

Carrie Berner recalled her husband as a hero with no boundaries when help was needed. She told a story of a deer her husband freed from a wire fence while others suggested the animal might have to be shot. Then there was the opossum he saved.

Her favorite story was about the woman who asked if he could help a turtle that had wandered onto Route 38, was up against the median, and would surely be run over.

Berner responded, and later called the concerned citizen - who was his wife.

"He said, 'Carrie, you can stop worrying, I have rescued the knee pad.' To me it was a turtle."


bboyer@phillynews.com

856-779-3838 @BBBoyer

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