Four-and-a-half years after motorcyclist Nelson E. Newcomer was fatally run over during what police said was an alcohol-fueled hit-and-run by a repeat DUI offender, the case has finally made it to trial.
Family and friends of Newcomer, 56, of Millersville, Lancaster County, packed the courtroom Wednesday afternoon for the start of Travis Wagner Fowler's non-jury trial. It will be up to presiding Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn to determine guilt or innocence.
Fowler, 30, of 554 Jamison Road in Lower Windsor Township, is charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, DUI, driving without a license and a number of other offenses. He remains free on bail.
This is his fifth DUI charge, according to court records. At the time of the July 19, 2008, crash on Route 30 in Hellam Township, he was on probation for drunken driving.
A blood test determined Fowler's blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent, according to his arrest affidavit. In Pennsylvania, an adult is driving drunk at 0.08 percent.
Eyewitness: The first witness to take the stand Wednesday was Edward Dill of Hellam Township, who said he was driving home from a birthday party about 1 a.m., going 60 or 65 mph, when he spotted Newcomer's motorcycle perhaps a half-mile ahead of him, going about 50 or 55 mph.
Dill said he had "no problem at all" seeing the motorcycle ahead of him, and remembered the bike's two taillights both were working.
That's when Fowler's red Dodge Durango come from behind, going perhaps 100 mph, Dill testified. All three vehicles were eastbound on Route 30, near the Hallam exit.
"As he passed me he cut me off the road," Dill told the judge. "He ran me off the road and onto the ramp -- the grassy area."
'Never stopped': The Durango kept going, at which point Newcomer, who'd been riding in the left lane, activated his motorcycle's right turn signal and began moving to the right, Dill said.
But the Durango also moved from the left lane to the right, and "ran right over" Newcomer, Dill testified.
"(Fowler) never stopped," Dill said. "No brakes, no nothing."
Newcomer was thrown into the air and landed off the highway, the witness said.
Dill testified he stopped and looked for Newcomer, then waited for police an paramedics to arrive.
"He was just moaning," Dill said.
No deal: Fowler appeared in court in August, where he was expected to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of 11 to 25 years in state prison.
But instead of pleading guilty, Fowler fired defense attorney Rick Robinson, hired attorney Justin McShane and said he wanted to take his case to trial.
At that point, chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said the plea-agreement offer was being withdrawn.
Four DUIs: York County court records show Fowler has pleaded guilty to drunken driving, driving with a suspended license and related charges in four cases since 2002.
As part of his prior prison sentences, Fowler was required to take DUI classes to learn the danger of drunken driving.
The current case has remained in limbo for so long because Fowler appealed a lower-court ruling allowing Barker to introduce Fowler's prior DUIs during trial. That appeal was denied.
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.