After having dinner with his girlfriend at Chow Bistro in Collegeville last month, John Rufe slid behind the wheel of his Ford Mustang GT, turned off the sports car’s traction control and sped out of the parking lot, police said Wednesday.
Minutes later, Rufe, 62, lost control of the car and veered into oncoming traffic, striking another vehicle. His girlfriend and passenger, Margaret Berman, 57, died from her injuries, and Rufe now faces criminal charges for causing the fatal collision.
Rufe, of North Wales, was charged Wednesday with homicide by vehicle, DUI and related offenses for that Nov. 6 crash, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed for his arrest. He was released after his arraignment Wednesday on $50,000 unsecured bail.
Rufe’s attorney, Saul Solomon, said Rufe was deeply saddened by the loss of Berman.
“It’s very sad, because they’d been together for five years, and both families are grieving right now,” Solomon said.
While being treated at Paoli Hospital after the crash, Rufe had a blood-alcohol content of .132%, according to the affidavit ― the legal limit for drivers in Pennsylvania is .08%. He later told investigators he had been drinking beer at his home before picking up Berman, and continued to drink while at Chow’s Restaurant.
The crash occurred about 9:13 p.m. at the intersection of Main Street and Clamer Avenue in Collegeville, the affidavit said. As he rounded a turn, Rufe allegedly lost control of the Mustang and began to spin counter-clockwise, traveling into the opposite lane.
The car collided with a Range Rover, with Berman’s passenger-side door taking the full impact of the crash. The family inside the Range Rover did not suffer any serious injuries, police said.
Berman was airlifted to Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, investigators said. She later died there.
During their investigation, detectives noticed several empty beer bottles on the ground around the Mustang, as well as additional bottles inside the vehicle, the affidavit said. Witnesses at the Chinese restaurant said they had heard the driver of the Mustang loudly rev its engine and spin its tires as it pulled out of the lot.
Investigators said it appeared Rufe turned off the vehicle’s traction control, which normally prevents the car from sliding as it accelerates quickly. They estimate he was traveling about 55 miles per hour — 25 miles per hour above the posted speed limit — at the time of the crash.
Court records indicate Rufe was charged with DUI in 1996 and successfully completed an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program for first-time offenders.
He is scheduled to appear in front of a magisterial District Judge for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 22.