Amid a packed courtroom, a sea of police officers, many wearing black Narcotics Strike Force jackets or sweaters, heard testimony yesterday of how 16-year-old Andre Butler led police on a high-speed, reckless chase that led to the crash that killed Officer Isabel Nazario.
Disregarding stop signs, Butler, driving a white Cadillac Escalade, sped eastbound on Wallace Street toward 39th at about 70 mph, Strike Force Officer Brian Kensey testified.
At that intersection, the SUV T-boned the passenger side of Nazario's police car, "causing that vehicle to end up in the air" before landing, he said.
Upon hearing testimony of the impact, Nazario's sister, Police Officer Maritza Mohamad, wept and rested her head on the shoulder of Nazario's fiance, Officer Carlos Buitrago.
Nazario's mother, Patricia Santiago, shut her eyes.
Municipal Court Judge David Shuter yesterday held Butler, of Markoe Street near Brown, in the Mill Creek section of West Philly, for trial on all charges, including third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and fleeing from police.
Strike Force Officer Michael Jones testified that at 9:06 p.m. on Sept. 5 he responded to a radio call of a vehicle driving recklessly on Westminster Avenue near 47th Street, in Mill Creek. As his police wagon approached, he said, he saw a white Cadillac Escalade making two or three U-turns and "grazing vehicles on both sides of the street."
Jones and three other officers testified to a one-mile chase in which Butler fled from police, repeatedly running red lights and stop signs until the crash about six minutes later at 39th and Wallace streets, in Mantua.
Kensey, who was in the lead cop car at the end of the chase, said that when he first saw Butler's oncoming SUV on Aspen Street near Lancaster Avenue, the headlights were off. When the SUV slammed Nazario's car, "as far as I know, lights were not on at that point either," he said.
Nazario, 40, who was in the passenger seat, and her partner, Officer Terry Tull, the driver, both lay unconscious, appearing "lifeless," in their severely damaged squad car, Strike Force Sgt. Michael Ward testified. It took the Jaws of Life and brute strength to extricate first Tull, then Nazario, who never regained consciousness, he said.
Tull, who was not in court, suffered serious bodily injury and "still to this day needs a cane to walk," Assistant District Attorney John Doyle said in court. Afterward, the prosecutor told reporters that he had not asked Tull to come in for the preliminary hearing because of his condition.
Kensey and Strike Force Officer Timothy Linahan, who was in a separate vehicle, both testified that immediately after the crash, Butler jumped from the SUV's driver's-side window and ran.
Kensey and Linahan chased him on foot.
Butler ran about six blocks, doubling back at one point because a police car cut him off, then was arrested at Union and Mount Vernon streets, Linahan said.
Butler was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, although he looked like he had no injuries, Homicide Detective Timothy Scally testified.
Asked by defense attorney Willie Lee Nattiel Jr. how Butler reacted when told of Nazario's death, Scally said the teen, who was cuffed to a hospital bed, "didn't say anything." Asked if Butler had reacted in any other way, Scally said he just "put his arms up, and put his arms back down."
Earlier, Scally read a statement Butler gave while at the hospital.
In it, Butler said that he had fled from police because "I was scared." He said that there was a warrant out for him for a failure-to-appear in relation to a juvenile placement. He admitted to driving the SUV that struck the police car.
He claimed that he had hit the cop car after swerving to avoid another car.
But prosecutor Doyle said after the hearing that there was no evidence that another car was in front of Butler at 39th and Wallace.
In court, Doyle told the judge that the Cadillac Escalade had been reported stolen by the Philadelphia Auto Superstore, on Erie Avenue near Castor, two weeks before Nazario's death.
He also said that Butler had no license or permit to operate a car.
Doyle argued in court that this was a third-degree murder because of Butler's reckless driving.
It was "only a miracle a second officer was not killed, a miracle this defendant did not kill anyone else," Doyle told the judge.
Co-defense attorney Brian F. Humble argued for third-degree murder to be discharged, contending that there had been no malice. He said that the incident had been accidental and the actions "of a frightened child who ran away from police."
The judge found that at this stage of the trial, the commonwealth had shown that Butler's reckless driving rose to the level of malice.
Humble said after the hearing that although the SUV had been stolen, his client had not stolen it.