A New Jersey woman driving a car that investigators determined to be in poor condition is charged with third-degree murder after she allegedly fatally struck a firefighter and injured three first responders last summer, authorities said.
Just after 3 a.m. on July 24, the Pennsylvania State Police and Belmont Hills Fire Company responded to the scene of a car crash in the westbound lanes on I-76 in Montgomery County involving a Chevrolet Malibu and a Nissan Altima.
WCAU reported the crashed cars were off the side of the highway and a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle and a fire truck, with its lights flashing, were in the right-hand lane. Emergency responders had also put out orange cones to funnel vehicles around the accident and into the left lane.
According to the news station cars passing by the scene of the crash were traveling at speeds around 10 mph.
Around 3:23 a.m., Jacqueline Walker, 63, allegedly drove her 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee at a high speed into the area where the crashed cars were located and hit the four emergency workers. Authorities said she also hit the Nissan Altima.
Lower Merion firefighter Thomas Royds, 49, died and two firefighters and a state patrol trooper suffered multiple injuries.
Walker was taken into custody and charged with homicide by vehicle-DUI, but toxicology test results later showed she was not under the influence of either drugs or alcohol at the time of the fatal crash.
“Our extensive investigation found that Walker operated her vehicle despite knowing that her brakes were not in functioning order, operating her vehicle in such an extreme reckless manner that she plowed through an active, well-marked emergency response area, severely injuring three first responders and killing another first responder, leading us to add the third-degree murder charge,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said.
Prior to the crash, Steele noted, police had stopped Walker three times, including for “driving without her headlights, driving with an inoperable brake light, driving with a license plate inoperable, two or three brake lights out, speeding.”
Officials alleged Walker was aware only one of four brakes on her Jeep were functional but she never fixed them and continued to drive, according to WCAU.
In addition to third-degree murder, Walker also faces charges of homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving and other related offenses.
Walker was arraigned on Oct. 5 and she was being held at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on $500,000 cash bail.