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Lower Pottsgrove teen pleads not guilty to texting before fatal Limerick crash


By Carl Hessler Jr., chessler@pottsmerc.com

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NORRISTOWN — A Lower Pottsgrove teenager has pleaded not guilty to charges that he allegedly had marijuana in his system and was distracted while texting and driving at the time he fatally struck a female jogger on a Limerick roadway.
Justin Matthew Jackson, 18, of the 3600 block of Walnut Ridge Estate, waived his arraignment in Montgomery County Court and entered not guilty pleas to charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of a controlled substance, homicide by vehicle, DUI, unsworn falsification to authorities, recklessly endangering another person, possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and prohibiting text-based communication in connection with the 2:45 p.m. March 4 crash that claimed the life of jogger Merinda R. Thompson, 40, of Royersford.
By waiving his arraignment, Jackson did not have to appear before a judge for a formal reading of the charges lodged against him. Jackson, who remains free after posting 10 percent of $100,000 cash bail, will now be scheduled for trial on the charges.
Jackson, who is represented by lawyers Francis Genovese and Martin P. Mullaney, is believed to be the first person to be prosecuted under a relatively new state law that bans reading, writing or sending text messages for all drivers while a vehicle is in motion. Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley is prosecuting the case.
The investigation, which included a search of the contents of Jackson’s cell phone, determined that prior to the crash, between 2:23 p.m. and 2:41 p.m., Jackson was engaged in a series of “chat messages” with another person, according to the criminal complaint.
At 2:44 p.m. Jackson placed a call to “Dad” and the call was not answered, court documents alleged. The time between the last text message and the phone call to “Dad” is two minutes 49 seconds, authorities alleged.
A 911 call connected to the crash was created by Montgomery County Emergency Dispatch at 2:45 p.m., according to authorities.
Blood tests determined “metabolites of marijuana were found in Jackson’s blood,” according to the criminal complaint. Based upon the analysis of the concentrations of marijuana in the blood, authorities alleged in court documents that Jackson “was smoking marijuana on or about the time of the crash” and that such concentrations rendered him unfit to safely operate a motor vehicle.
A marijuana pipe was observed “in plain view on the front driver’s side floor” of Jackson’s green 2000 Ford Focus, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective David Schanes and Limerick Detective Ernie Morris. During a search of the vehicle, investigators recovered a glass pipe, a container of suspected marijuana and empty prescription bottles of medication in Jackson’s name, court documents alleged.
The crash occurred in the 400 block of North Lewis Road in front of Chesterbrook Academy. Investigators determined Jackson’s vehicle was traveling northbound on North Lewis Road. Thompson, authorities said, was jogging properly along the southbound shoulder of the roadway in a northbound direction.
Due to Jackson “being impaired, distracted and driving in a reckless manner,” his car traveled to the left, crossed the double yellow line and entered the southbound travel lane, striking Thompson with the front, driver’s side of his car, authorities alleged.
Thompson, a mother of two, was catapulted forward and came to rest in a parking lot off the west side of the road, detectives said. Jackson’s vehicle continued on, striking a utility pole.
An autopsy determined the cause of Thompson’s death was “craniocerebral injuries,” according to the arrest affidavit.
Jackson, who was found outside his vehicle, complained of neck and abdomen pain and allegedly told police he was “adjusting his car radio, which caused him to cross the double yellow line.” Jackson was transported to an area hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Jackson later told police he had been texting while he was driving prior to the crash but not at the time of the crash. Jackson said after the crash occurred he placed a phone call to his father and when it went unanswered he called a friend, court documents alleged.
Jackson allegedly told police he does smoke marijuana but denied smoking any marijuana on the day of the crash.
Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews