Ex-Pittsburgh police officer's homicide and DUI trial in fatal motorcycle crash begins

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Pittsburgh police Officer James Payne had just left an off-duty job on the South Side and was making his way to his home in Lincoln Place when he saw his friend, neighbor and fellow officer, Adam Lewis, a few car lengths ahead of him in traffic on Carson Street.

It was about 2:30 a.m. Sept. 26, 2010, and -- like Officer Payne -- Mr. Lewis was on a motorcycle.

Still a few vehicles behind, Officer Payne followed his friend up Carson but had to stop for traffic merging into Mifflin Road, and again when a lit cigarette thrown from a passing car caught his clothes on fire.

By the time Officer Payne continued up Mifflin Road a couple of minutes later, a Ford Expedition with a broken headlight was heading toward him with the driver hanging out the window and yelling he'd been in a crash.

"He was very upset," Officer Payne said. "I told him to turn around and come back."

He immediately thought his friend had crashed.

"I assumed it was Adam."

It was.

Mr. Lewis, 31, drove into the wrong lane of traffic and was struck by the SUV, police said. His passenger, Jessica Lojak, 28, of Fawn, was thrown from the motorcycle.

She was pronounced dead at 3:17 a.m. at UPMC Presbyterian having suffered an open pelvic fracture, head trauma and other injuries.

Pittsburgh police charged Mr. Lewis with homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence and related charges. He was terminated from the department after charges were filed.

His bench trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning began Monday.

Allegheny County assistant district attorney Lisa Carey said Mr. Lewis' blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.111. The legal limit in Pennsylvania is 0.08.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer said during a brief opening statement to Judge Manning that alcohol was not a "substantial factor" in the crash.

Officer Payne testified that Carson was under construction at the time, and that as he followed Mr. Lewis up the road, he didn't notice him having any trouble negotiating the raised manhole covers.

"He weaved in and out of them just like I did," Officer Payne said. "I didn't see any problems."

When he got to the scene of the crash, Officer Payne said he used his radio to call dispatch for EMS and tried to block traffic in both directions to ensure that Mr. Lewis and Lojak were not in danger of being struck by other vehicles. Both were unresponsive.

According to police, Mr. Lewis and Lojak had been at a bachelorette party on the South Side that night.

Officer Raymond P. Kain Jr., who does collision reconstruction, said it appeared that Mr. Lewis leaned too far to the right when negotiating a curve in the road, which caused the right side of the motorcycle to scrape along the ground. When the bike started to right itself, it was struck by the SUV, which was in its own lane of travel and attempting to move into the shoulder, Officer Kain said.

"Ultimately, what set this thing in motion, you can't tell me?" Mr. Difenderfer asked.

"I can tell you what the physical evidence shows me," Officer Kain answered.

"What initiated this loss of control, you can't tell us, can you?"

"Not with scientific certainty," the officer replied.

neigh_city - breaking - region

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published September 16, 2013 12:15 AM


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