NORRISTOWN >> All charges have been dropped against a Berks County truck driver charged with homicide by vehicle in an April 2015 crash that killed a Stowe man.
After three days of testimony in the trial of Edwin Olivo, 46, of West Reading, Judge Gail A. Weilheimer granted a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss all charges.
“This is not an easy case. There is no question that a horrific accident occurred and as a result Mr. Jeffers lost his life through no fault of his own,” Judge Weilheimer said. “But the court’s role is to determine if there is criminal culpability in this case.”
The mid-trial motion argued that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to prove gross negligence or recklessness by Olivo that caused the crash that killed Jermon Jeffers, 40, of Stowe.
“I knew I had a good argument to make,” defense attorney Art Donato said of his motion to dismiss. “I believed, and it turned out to be true, that I was in front of the court that has the intellectual capability and the moral courage to do what’s right in the case. From that point of view, I felt good about the argument that I was going to make.”
The judge said that she considered all facts and evidence provided by the Commonwealth, which included 144 exhibits, testimony from law enforcement, eyewitnesses and three experts about whether Olivo failed to properly secure the trailer of his truck to the tractor.
During arguments on the motion, she asked prosecutors about the definition of recklessness and whether the evidence showed any definitive violation of safety or moving vehicle ordinances.
“Your own witness testified that he did not see the truck going out of its lane. I asked him if he saw anything out of the ordinary about the truck before the crash and he said that he did not,” Judge Weilheimer told prosecutors.
During a drive from Reading to Hatfield on April 27, 2015, the trailer separated from Olivo’s cab and collided with a tanker truck being driven by Jeffers on the 700 block of South Park Avenue in Lower Providence. The collision drove Jeffers’ cab into a utility pole, splitting the cab open. Jeffers was pronounced dead at the scene.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Lavenberg explained that the commercial driver manual says that it is “imperative” to follow the procedures to couple the trailer with the tractor.
“If not, it is a ticking time bomb until that trailer comes loose and causes a crash, and that is what happened here,” Lavenberg said. “And that crash cost Mr. Jeffers his life.”
The charges against Olivo accused him of criminal negligence during procedures to secure the trailer and mandatory inspections required before taking the truck on the road. The defense argued that Olivo, a man with a reputation for being safety conscious, had completed these tasks the morning of the crash and that a mechanical failure had caused the trailer to come apart from the rest of the truck.
“I have a client who is a wonderful human being and has the highest reputation in his community and so he was going to testify even though, as you know, he doesn’t have to, but he was going to testify and we had character witnesses that were going to come all the way down from Reading in a bus to testify as to how safety conscious and how responsible and reliable and dependable he is,” Donato said.
Olivo hugged his defense attorneys after the judge announced her decision Wednesday afternoon. Then he took a moment alone in the courtroom and cried.
He thanked God, his attorneys and the owner of his company for aiding in his defense. Clearly relieved that the charges against him were dropped, Olivo did take a somber moment to speak about the death of Jeffers.
“Since that happened I changed my life thoroughly. I feel very sorry about it,” Olivo said after the trial. “He went out, the same thing as me, to make bread for his family, the same thing as me, and I feel so sorry. The same thing that happened to him could have happened to me, you know and I do feel very, very sorry for his family. I feel deeply sorry.”