Former Pittsburgh officer sentenced to alternative housing for fatal crash

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Jessica Lojak was so busy -- working as a veterinary technician, going to nursing school and baby-sitting -- that to spend time with her mother, the two of them would watch "Grey's Anatomy" on Thursday nights while on the phone with each other.

"That was our way of spending time together," Laura Lojak said of her daughter. "I miss her voice. I miss her smile.

"Everything out there reminds me of her. The pain is so unbearable, I can't even explain how it feels."

Jessica Lojak, 28, of Fawn was killed early on Sept. 26, 2010, while riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by Adam Lewis.

They had just left a bachelorette party for Lewis' now-wife, Ashley, on the South Side, and both the prosecution and defense stipulated he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.108 that night. A level of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated in Pennsylvania. Testimony also indicated that Lewis was traveling 15 mph above the posted speed limit when he lost control of the motorcycle about 2:30 a.m. on a sharp curve on Mifflin Road.

"Adam could have made better decisions that night," Laura Lojak said. "He's a police officer, he should know better than all of us not to do that."

Lewis, 31, who was fired from his position as a Pittsburgh police officer, was sentenced Monday to one to two years in alternative housing for homicide by vehicle.

He was found guilty in October in a nonjury trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

Judge Manning found that Lewis' reckless driving resulted in the crash, but he found him not guilty of homicide by vehicle while DUI, which would have required a mandatory three- to six-year prison term.

The judge also ordered Lewis, who is working as a carpenter, to serve an additional six months of house arrest, followed by three additional years of probation. He will be permitted work release.

Several Lojak family members gave victim-impact statements.

Jessica Lojak's mother and father noted in their comments that the family had been saving money to pay for their daughter's wedding and instead had to use it to pay for her funeral.

Eddie Lojak Jr., the victim's younger brother, told the court that his sister always made time for everyone.

"From the time we were little to the night she died, we were best friends," he said. "The vision of her lying in that hospital bed that night is burnt forever in my mind."

Both Eddie Lojak and another brother, Ryan, told Judge Manning they were frustrated by the lack of any apology, remorse or contact by Lewis.

"It would have made a world of difference," Ryan Lojak said. "It would have helped so much."

But defense attorney William Difenderfer explained to the court that he instructed his client and the man's family to not speak to the Lojaks until the case concluded.

When it was his time to speak, Lewis apologized.

"Jessica was more than a friend to me and Ashley," he said. "She was involved in our lives, our dreams and our fun.

"This accident has changed two families forever. From the very core of my heart, I offer my deepest sympathies to the Lojak family. I accept full responsibility for what happened, and I am very sorry."

Mr. Difenderfer told Judge Manning in a sentencing memorandum that the accident -- more than the prosecution and conviction -- has changed his client's life.

"He has suffered physically and emotionally and knows there is nothing he can do to change what happened, to bring Ms. Lojak back, or to relieve the suffering of those who love her," Mr. Difenderfer wrote.

Forty-five people submitted letters on Lewis' behalf, including his wife, whom he married three weeks after the crash, and his parents.

In her letter, Ashley Lewis told the court that she became fast friends with Jessica Lojak in nursing school, and that the young woman was to be one of her bridesmaids.

"A part of my soul will never recover fully from that night," she wrote. "Not just because of the accident and the consequences that followed but because I lost a true friend and almost lost my future husband."

Ms. Lewis told Judge Manning that the accident has changed the lives of both her and her husband.

"I did marry him because he is the man that I wish every girl can have, warts and all. He has never given up on us or life," she said. "He deserves to have a fulfilling life and be forgiven for his mistakes like everyone else."

In his letter, Lewis' father, Dana, described his oldest son as "easygoing, honest, kind, polite, optimistic and most definitely sociable."

He also said his son long dreamed of being a police officer. Dana Lewis noted, too, in his letter, that his family understands the magnitude of the Lojak family's loss.

"This accident has taken a toll on Adam, but together we are trying to move on," he wrote. "However, moving on does not mean forgetting. Adam will live the rest of his life knowing that the accident of Sept. 26, 2010, took the life of a beautiful, vibrant, precious, Jessica."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published January 6, 2014 12:33 PM


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