A Hanover man is charged with vehicular homicide for fatally hitting a pedestrian on Route 30 in Hellam Twp. on Oct. 13, 2011. Police allege Robert Sawyer
A Hanover man is charged with vehicular homicide for fatally hitting a pedestrian on Route 30 in Hellam Twp. on Oct. 13, 2011. Police allege Robert Sawyer was driving distracted. (John A. Pavoncello)

A Hanover man was driving distracted when his pickup truck fatally struck a woman on Route 30 in Hellam Township more than a year ago, police allege.

Robert Sawyer, 21, of 1306 Carlisle Pike, remains free on his own recognizance, charged with homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle, reckless driving, careless driving causing an unintentional death and driving at an unsafe speed.

His formal court arraignment was Friday, according to county court records.

Hellam Township Police said Sawyer fatally struck 45-year-old Helen Hammes of Lancaster, who was pronounced dead at the scene of the Oct. 13, 2011, crash about 15 feet east of the Cool Springs Road overpass.

His attorney, public defender George Margetas, said while Hammes' death is tragic, it's not a crime.

"This is an unfortunate accident that caused the death of someone," he said. "My client ... is devastated over it."

The crash: According to charging documents, there was a construction zone in the area, and the speed limit had been reduced to 45 mph. Traffic was slowed in the left lane, at which point Hammes' minivan rear-ended a Toyota Camry driven by Jacki Lease of Lancaster, documents state.

Lease's car was pushed to the left shoulder, while Hammes' van was disabled in the left lane, police said.

Hammes got out of her minivan to check on Lease, which is when she was struck by Sawyer's pickup truck, documents state.


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Hammes was thrown 20 to 30 feet and landed near the center guardrail, police said.

Lease suffered leg injuries -- including broken bones and a deep cut -- when Sawyer's pickup crashed into her Camry, snapping off the driver's side door, police said; Sawyer escaped injury.

'Distracted': Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said Sawyer should have been able to avoid hitting Hammes.

"We allege that he was engaged in inattentive and/or distracted behavior while (driving)," Barker said. "He was engaged in secondary tasks in the critical time period leading up to the crash ... when he should have seen (the victims)."

Those other tasks included manipulating his cellphone and eating food, documents state.

Speeding? Sawyer told police he wasn't on the phone at the time of the crash and didn't see the accident in front of him until he was basically on top of it, according to documents. He estimated he was going 60-65 mph, police said.

Margetas also said his client wasn't using a phone at the time of the crash.

What makes the crash homicide and not a mere accident is that Sawyer allegedly "was engaged in reckless and grossly negligent conduct," according to Barker.

After a lengthy investigation, township police filed charges in August.

A blood test determined Sawyer had no drugs or alcohol in his system, police said.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.