The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office will appeal a judge’s decision to dismiss charges against driver Jorge Fretts for the killing of cyclist Emily Fredricks, the chief of the DA’s homicide unit said Friday.
Fretts hit Fredricks as she was riding to work in a bike lane on Spruce Street in 2017. Anthony Voci, the DA’s chief of homicide, investigated and approved the charges against Fretts.
“In this particular case, the driver violated multiple laws and we believe that rose to the level of recklessness which makes it a crime under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and we intend to pursue that vigorously,” Voci said Friday.
Voci spoke to a crowd of bicycle safety advocates outside DA Larry Krasner’s office just two days after Philadelphia Judge Lillian Ransom responded to a motion by Frett’s attorney David Bahuriak on Wednesday by dismissing all charges. The charges included vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment of another person.
Bahuriak argued that the DA failed to prove that a crime had been committed.
At the news of the DA’s announcement, Bahuriak said the collision was unavoidable and “unavoidable accidents are not supposed to be the subject of criminal prosecutions.”
“In this particular case, there could be certain political factions who think this is a great idea to make an example of Mr. Fretts,” he said. “While it is tragic and it’s awful that someone was killed in this accident, unfortunately it was just that. It was an accident.”
News of the dismissal of charges came as a shock to many. Voci said their investigation found the 28-year-old driver was wearing headphones and looking at paperwork when the massive truck collided with 24-year-old Fredricks as she was riding in the bike lane. It is illegal to drive in Pa. while wearing earbuds.
“When you have a 64,000-pound commercial vehicle that you’re operating, not on some remote highway in the middle of the night, but at rush hour in the fifth-largest metropolitan city in the country, you’ve got to drive that thing very, very, very carefully,” said Voci.
“And in this particular case, he didn’t. And in this case, a young lady, a very, very, very bright light was extinguished.”
Bahuriak rebuffs Voci’s claims against Fretts. He said his client was only wearing one earbud and “there was no evidence that he was doing anything other than carrying out his duties.”
The Fredricks family settled with Gold Medal Environmental, the company that owned the vehicle Fretts drove, for $6 million and a five-year $125,000 pledge to donate to organizations advocating for street safety. But the Fredricks family says they will continue to demand justice for Emily.
“We’re very happy that it’s definitely moving forward,” said Fredricks aunt, Jill Fredricks Brown. “We’re not going to be silenced. We’re not going away. If anything we’re just getting louder.”
Voci said he is hopeful the charges will stick this time. But “the Superior Court is made up of people” who “have their leanings and quirks and idiosyncrasies,” he said. There’s no telling what they’ll decide, but “they need to look at these facts and this case and make the right decision.”
A report from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia revealed that out of 95 traffic deaths of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists between 2017 and 2018, drivers were charged in only 16 percent of the cases.
Furthermore, 30% of the cases were closed with no charges, and close to half of the cases provided no data at all.
The Bicycle Coalition’s executive director, Sarah Clark Stuart, said “motorists who kill vulnerable road users” must be held accountable and that the district attorney’s announcement to appeal is “heartening news.”
“They certainly know after today that a lot of people are watching and counting on them to be successful,” said Stuart.
Meanwhile, Bahuriak said he is confident the charges will once again be dismissed.
“That’s not because any kind of magic or advocacy on my part,” he said. “That just because facts speak for themselves.”