The first police radio report suggested all the earmarks of a joyriding teenager: a white Cadillac Escalade moving erratically and making U-turns that grazed cars parked along a residential West Philadelphia street.
Four minutes later, after a mile-long police pursuit, Police Officer Isabel Nazario was dead and 16-year-old Andre Butler had graduated to the big time.
Yesterday a Philadelphia judge ordered Butler, of Mantua, held for trial on a charge of third-degree murder in the Sept. 5 broadsiding of the police cruiser at 39th and Wallace Streets. The crash killed Nazario, 40, an 18-year veteran officer, and severely injured her partner, Officer Terry Tull.
Municipal Court Judge David C. Shuter rejected a motion by defense attorneys Brian F. Humble and Willie Lee Nattiel Jr. to hold Butler for trial on the lesser charge of homicide by vehicle.
"I knew Officer Nazario as well, and this was a tragic occurrence," Humble argued. "But this was a frightened child who ran away from police, which he shouldn't have. Kids make dumb choices, and sometimes irrational ones."
Police Homicide Detective Timothy Scally testified about a statement Butler gave shortly before midnight Sept. 5.
Scally said Butler told him he was scared when he saw police following because he had an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear to be placed in a juvenile facility.
He said that Butler voluntarily waived his constitutional right not to speak to police and that Butler's mother agreed to let detectives question her son.
Assistant District Attorney John Doyle told Shuter that Butler's conduct Sept. 5 undercut the defense argument: Butler led police on a chase at high speeds, running nine traffic lights or stop signs and stopping only when he plowed into Nazario and Tull's squad car.
Even then, Doyle said, Butler got out of the crushed Cadillac and ran for several blocks before being cut off by another squad car and arrested.
"This was not a tragedy; this was a murder. This was an outrage," Doyle said.
Butler, a slight youth who looks years younger than his age, sat slumped in an oversize prison-issue gray sweatshirt. Through much of the 21/2-hour hearing, he gazed around the high-security courtroom, eyes wide like an awed tourist.
On the other side of the bulletproof glass separating the court from the public was a crowd of about 100: mostly uniformed police officers, their badges still bearing a strip of black mourning tape for Nazario and three other officers killed this year in the line of duty.
Almost lost near the back was Butler's mother, Sandra Butler, flanked by a handful of relatives.
The family, which publicly expressed its condolences to the families of Nazario and Tull after the accident, spent time consoling Sandra Butler, who sobbed uncontrollably after the hearing.
Sitting in the front row, directly behind Doyle, were Nazario's sister, Police Officer Maritza Mohamad, and their mother, Patricia Rodriguez Santiago.
Both women wept and hugged as Sgt. Michael Ward testified about arriving at 39th and Wallace Streets at 9:10 p.m., seconds after the crash.
Ward, his lower lip starting to quiver, said he walked toward police car N145 and saw "two officers lay lifeless across the front seat of the car."
Ward said the cruiser was pushed up on the sidewalk and the passenger door was "embedded in the car. Officer Nazario was over the console because the door was pushed in over a foot."
It took 35 minutes to pry the car apart and get Tull out, Ward said, and even longer for Nazario.
It was only during the extraction that Tull momentarily regained consciousness and Ward said he realized that Tull was alive.
Tull, 38, a 12-year police veteran, was not in court yesterday.
"He wasn't necessary for the preliminary hearing, and he still can't get around without a cane," Doyle said. "But we hope he'll be fine by the time of the trial."