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Truck driver was looking at paperwork when he hit a Center City bicyclist in 2017, DA says

The charges come in a case that became a flashpoint for the city's safe streets advocates.

A photo of Emily Fredricks, a cyclist killed by a garbage truck, is pictured on a ghost bike at the crash site, 11th and Spruce Streets, in December 2017. The ghost bike was provided by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
A photo of Emily Fredricks, a cyclist killed by a garbage truck, is pictured on a ghost bike at the crash site, 11th and Spruce Streets, in December 2017. The ghost bike was provided by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.Read moreTim Tai

The trash-truck driver who killed a pastry chef on a bicycle in Center City in 2017 has been charged in her death.

Jorge Fretts, 28, of Philadelphia, was charged Tuesday with homicide by vehicle, a felony, as well as involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person in the death of Emily Fredricks, 24. He turned himself in Tuesday and was held on $100,000 bail. Court records showed he had not posted that bail as of Wednesday morning.

The most serious charge, homicide by vehicle, could bring a maximum sentence of five years incarceration.

Ben Cooper, the attorney representing Fretts, said he had just been notified of the case Wednesday and declined to comment.

The Nov. 28 incident happened at 11th and Spruce Streets during morning rush hour, Anthony Voci, the Philadelphia district attorney’s chief of homicide, said during a news conference Wednesday. Video from inside the cab of the privately owned trash truck showed Fretts driving while looking at paperwork in the center console of his truck when he should have been watching his side-view mirrors, Voci said. Fretts also was wearing ear buds in the video.

As he turned right, Voci said, Fretts crossed into a bicycle lane and Fredricks’ path, killing her.

“In this case, the evidence took us to the inescapable conclusion that this was not an accident, that this was an unlawful act," Voci said. “That it was due in large part to inattention and disregard for the law, multiple laws.”

Fretts remained an employee at Gold Medal Environmental, the company that owned the truck, until his arrest, Voci said, though it was not clear whether he was working as a driver during that time. Attempts to reach the Sewell company for comment were not successful.

Gold Medal reached a $6 million settlement with Fredricks’ family in September, and also agreed to contribute $25,000 a year for the next five years to an organization dedicated to safe streets in Philadelphia.

Fretts was not using his phone or speeding at the time of the collision, Voci said, and does not have any prior driving violations.

Fredricks’ parents, Laura and Richard, had known since September that charges were likely, they said Wednesday morning. Voci called them Tuesday to alert them that Fretts would be charged.

“When we found out how Emily was killed, you hope that there will be some justice,” Fredricks’ mother, Laura, said, “and with these charges, we do feel that it’s a message and a clear indication that if you don’t follow the rules, then there will be consequences as well there should be.”

>>READ MORE: Parents of Center City bicycle crash victim: Don’t let her death be in vain

Since her death, the Fredrickses, who live in East Brunswick, N.J., have become activists for street safety in Philadelphia. In 2018, 101 people died on Philadelphia’s streets, according to police data. That’s preliminary data and could change, but if the final count is near that, it will likely be more than the 94 deaths in 2017 reported by PennDot.

Fredricks was drawn to making pastries because of her creative side, her family has said. She worked at the Sagamore Resort in Lake George, N.Y., and the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., before moving to Philadelphia in May 2017. She was heading to her job at Le Chéri near Rittenhouse Square when she died.

“We are just so emotionally drained,” Laura Fredricks said. “We think about her every second of every day. We miss her terribly. She was a lovely, lovely young woman, and our family will never be the same.”

They were encouraged by the city’s decision to shift bike lanes from the right to the left side of the road on Spruce and Pine Streets, an adjustment meant to make cyclists more visible to motorists, and have supported efforts to install speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.

“It was a wake-up call to a lot of the city, because 11th and Spruce is a place where it’s supposed to be a safe place to ride a bike,” said Randy LoBasso, a spokesperson for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The organization has called for more transparency on how law enforcement decides whether a traffic-related death rises to the level of criminality. Four cyclists have died in Philadelphia in traffic-related incidents since Fredricks’ death, LoBasso said, and charges have not been filed in those cases. The organization recently requested information from the Philadelphia Police Department on investigations into 95 traffic-related deaths involving pedestrians, cyclists, or motorcyclists, and in nearly half the incidents the police provided no data.

Assigning criminal liability in car-related deaths is challenging, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said. The law recognizes that mistakes, even fatal ones, happen and may not be criminal, he said. Frett, though, limited his capacity to see and hear, and failed to follow safety precautions to the point that he “avoided everything you should be doing.”

“This, however, is that extraordinary case,” Krasner said. “The intent rises from mere accident to what we consider to be criminal intent.”