Teen gets jail for DUI crash that claimed life of Limerick jogger

Justin Matthew Jackson, 19, of Lower Pottsgrove, was sentenced to prison for homicide by vehicle for the death of a female jogger from Royersford.

NORRISTOWN — In a packed courtroom permeated by “tragedy and loss and sadness,” a judge ordered a Lower Pottsgrove teenager to state prison for killing a female jogger while driving under the influence of marijuana on a Limerick roadway.

“The sadness and grief in this room is choking out everything else. That’s the nature of your actions,” Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill addressed Justin Matthew Jackson as he sentenced him to three to 10 years in state prison in connection with the 2:45 p.m. March 4, 2013, crash on North Lewis Road that claimed the life of jogger Merinda R. Thompson, 40, a mother of two from Royersford. “There is nothing but tragedy and loss and sadness.”

Jackson, 19, of the 3600 block of Walnut Ridge Estate, previously pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of a controlled substance, homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, DUI and possessing a small amount of marijuana in connection with fatal crash.

The sentence included a three-year mandatory term sought by prosecutors for the homicide by vehicle while DUI charge. The judge acknowledged that no sentence he imposed could bring comfort to Thompson’s family.

“Merinda Thompson was a wonderful, young woman who lost her life because of the foolish, ignorant and selfish actions of Justin Jackson. He made the choice to smoke marijuana and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. He made an incredibly stupid and selfish decision,” Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley said as he argued for a lengthy prison sentence against Jackson. “He put getting high above the safety of everyone on the road.”

Defense lawyer Martin P. Mullaney argued for a sentence of not more than the three-year mandatory minimum term recommended by state law for the DUI-related homicide. Mullaney, describing the incident as a “monumental tragedy that’s going to affect so many lives,” maintained Jackson is remorseful and has taken steps to turn his life around since the crash, including completing an inpatient drug treatment program and graduating from high school.

“Justin is a poster child for all high school students as to what can happen if you operate a car under the influence of drugs and or alcohol. No graduation, no senior week, no summer job, no college, nothing but jail,” Mullaney told the judge. “It’s a message that really needs to get out. Every high school student should be required to read the facts and consequences of this case.”

Jackson was 18 at the time of the crash and was in high school.

At one point during the emotion-filled hearing, Jackson stood and at times faced the grief-stricken relatives and friends of Thompson as he delivered an expression of remorse.

“I’m deeply sorry for what has happened because of this tragedy. I’m ashamed of my actions and ashamed of the consequences. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about your family,” said a solemn Jackson, adding he never imagined that smoking pot and then driving could lead to such tragedy and that he never understood the bad effects of using marijuana.

Jackson, who reportedly told probation officials he now understands “the evils” of pot, offered to speak with young people in the future about the dangers of smoking the drug, “so this can’t happen to anyone else.”

Thompson’s friends and relatives wept as they discussed the devastating ramifications of the tragedy, that her two children, ages 10 and 7, must grow up without a mother.

“They remember their mother planting flowers but now they won’t have that. The emotional impact on our family is devastating,” John Pietrafitta, Thompson’s father, told the judge as he choked back tears.

“The hardest thing in my life as a 62-year-old man is to visit the cemetery. You can’t believe that your daughter is in that ground,” Pietrafitta added as the sounds of spectators’ sobs echoed in the courtroom.

Jackson’s parents and his sister described Jackson as a “kind,” young man who valued family and would go out of his way to help family and friends. They said he realizes he must pay a debt to society.

“He’s very caring. He has a great heart. He continues to read The Bible,” Jackson’s mother, Julie, told the judge. “I pray every day for (Thompson’s) family. I hope for some healing for them and hopefully time will help us heal a little bit because this tragedy came out very, very sadly.”

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 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 was catapulted forward and came to rest in a parking lot off the west side of the road, detectives said. Jackson’s vehicle came to rest after striking a utility pole.

Blood tests determined “metabolites of marijuana were found in Jackson’s blood,” according to a 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 and a container of suspected marijuana, court documents alleged.

Authorities also alleged Jackson had been texting in the moments leading up to the crash. 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.

The following is an earlier version of this story.

NORRISTOWN — A Lower Pottsgrove teenager is headed to state prison after admitting that he was driving under the influence of marijuana at the time he struck a female jogger in Limerick, killing the mother of two.

During an emotional hearing in Montgomery County Court on Friday, Justin Matthew Jackson, 19, of the 3600 block of Walnut Ridge Estate, was sentenced to three to 10 years in a state prison on charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of a controlled substance, homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, DUI and possessing a small amount of marijuana in connection with the 2:45 p.m. March 4, 2013, crash on North Lewis Road that claimed the life of jogger Merinda R. Thompson, 40, of Royersford.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill imposed the punishment after a nearly three-hour hearing, saying there was “nothing but tragedy and loss and sadness” filling the courtroom. Thompson’s grieving friends and relatives, choking back tears, testified about their loss while Jackson’s parents testified about the remorse, sorrow and regret felt by their son in connection with the fatal crash.

Jackson was 18 at the time of the crash.

Blood tests determined “metabolites of marijuana were found in Jackson’s blood,” according to a 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, a mother of two, 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.

Check back here for more details on this developing story.

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