The morning of Jan. 23 was clear, and truck driver Valerijs Belovs cruised toward Philadelphia with a load of broccoli aboard.
But as his 77,000-pound rig passed Conshohocken on the Schuylkill Expressway, his brakes failed, causing a six-vehicle pileup that killed one man and injured another.
"I push brake, but no stop," Belovs, a Ukrainian immigrant, recalled later.
Yesterday, Victor M. Kalinitchii, 41, part-owner of the rig and Belovs' boss, pleaded guilty in a Norristown courtroom to one count of vehicular homicide in the death of David Schreffler, 49, of Fort Washington.
Schreffler, a businessman, died instantly of massive chest injuries when the rig rear-ended his Infiniti; his rider, Joseph Maylish, 53, of Media, was badly injured, but has returned to work.
Yesterday's court action brings to three the number of guilty pleas in the case. Belovs, 56, and Kalinitchii, both of Algon Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, have admitted responsibility for putting the truck on the road with brakes they knew were faulty.
A third man, mechanic Joseph Jadczak, 61, of Milton, Del., has pleaded guilty in court in Philadelphia to selling Belov a state inspection sticker from his shop at 2224 Granite St. without conducting any inspection.
All three faced the vehicular-homicide charge. They will undergo a presentence investigation, and are expected to be sentenced within 90 days, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney James Zoll said.
In a statement e-mailed yesterday, the family of David Schreffler said, "The family is extremely grateful for the prompt and efficient manner in which the police and the prosecution handled this tragedy.
"The family hopes that these types of trucking accidents continue to be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, so that our roads are safer for everyone."
The vehicular-homicide charge to which the trio pleaded guilty is a third-degree felony. It carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a $15,000 fine.
In addition, Kalinitchii pleaded guilty to two summary-offense charges, one for putting a vehicle on the road with defective brakes, and a second for driving with brake-drum linings too thin for safety. Each offense carries a penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard J. Hodgson accepted Kalinitchii's guilty plea. Judge Thomas C. Branca is expected to preside at sentencing, according to the judges' rotation schedule.
Attorney Paul Brandes, who represents the Schrefflers, said the guilty plea yesterday was especially welcome because the family did not want to relive the day of the accident by having to attend court proceedings.
Perry DeMarco, attorney for Kalinitchii, said the guilty plea meant his client "is accepting responsibility for this, and is remorseful.
"He wants to see this thing come to a conclusion, as I'm sure everyone that's involved in this situation does," DeMarco said.
According to court papers filed in Kalinitchii's case, an investigation by State Police Cpl. John Quigg showed that Belovs had alerted his boss many times before the crash that the rig's brakes were failing.
But Kalinitchii told the driver to continue on a cross-country haul starting Jan. 13, and said that when the rig returned, the brakes would be examined and fixed, the papers said.
The crash occurred before that could happen.