The crash that landed Matthew Stickley in front of a judge on June 12 happened right before Officer Christopher Jason's eyes.While on routine patrol along the Route 724 corridor in East Coventry on a December evening last year, Jason was in his marked car when the Ford pickup ahead of him suddenly swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic.
Immediately, the officer began radioing for ambulance and emergency responders to assist him and went to check on the motorists in the cars and the pickup truck. Most were uninjured, but one person, the driver of a Dodge Neon, Charles Morrotto Jr., 51, of Douglassville, appeared to be seriously hurt and unresponsive when Jason reached him.
As he checked the motorists, the officer states in an arrest affidavit, a man approached him from the area where the pickup had stopped. Asked if he was the driver, the man said yes, and when he spoke, Jason noticed a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.
Jason asked how much the driver had drank. "I had a couple drinks," at a bar in Union Township, Berks County, the man said. Placed in the back of Jason's patrol car for suspicion on driving under the influence, the man wanted to know what happened.
"Is everyone OK?" he asked the officer. "Is anyone hurt?"
The answers to those questions were "no" and "yes." Hospital officials at Pottstown Memorial Hospital later pronounced Morrotto dead from injuries he suffered in the crash. Another motorist, Dawn Schnell, 42, of Gilbertsville, had been taken to Reading Hospital, where she was treated for severe injuries.
The driver of the pickup was later identified as Stickley, 24, of Royersford. Police were able to determine that Stickley, who was living with his girlfriend at the time, was driving the car with a suspended license. It was also his second DUI arrest.
Stickley appeared in Common Pleas Court June 12 in front of Judge Phyllis Streitel in West Chester to enter guilty pleas to charges of homicide by vehicle while DUI as well as aggravated assault while DUI, and related counts. Streitel ordered a pre-sentence investigation be completed and that Stickley be sentenced at a later date.
According to the information provided during the brief hearing, which was attended by family members of the victims, the crash occurred about 9:18 p.m. on Dec. 21, in the 1400 block of Route 724.
Stickley was driving a gray Ford F-150 pickup eastbound when, at the intersection of Route 724 and Peterman Road, he swerved unexpectedly into the westbound lane of traffic. He hit five cars containing a total of eight people. The information provided by Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Wright to Streitel did not indicate how fast he was traveling at the time of the crash.
Stickley's blood alcohol level, taken while he was being treated for injuries he suffered in the crash, was.158, nearly twice the legal limit for driving under the influence charges. Morrotto was pronounced dead at 11:16 p.m., about two hours after the crash. Schnell, who was airlifted from the site, was the driver of a Mercury Mountaineer.
Stickley, a military veteran who was born in Sunbury and graduated in 2001 from Tri-Valley High School in Higgins, faces a mandatory sentence of a minimum of three years in state prison for the homicide. Additional prison time may be added by Streitel to the sentence for the aggravated assault charge relating to the injuries suffered by Schnell.