Unsolved hit-and-run death on City Avenue prompts $5K reward, upcoming Manayunk fundraiser
January 28, 2013By Brian Hickey
"They want to know how [a driver] can just leave someone out in the road, like a bag of trash. Nobody can understand that."
-- Officer William Lackman, Philadelphia Police, accident investigation division
When 50-year-old Patrick Coyle was fatally struck by a vehicle on City Avenue less than three hours into 2013, the case became what's believed to be the country's first fatal hit-and-run involving a pedestrian of the year.
Four weeks later, investigators with the Philadelphia Police Accident Investigation Division have yet to catch the driver, and they're asking for help.
Investigators told NewsWorks last week that they have little more to go on than small pieces of the vehicle left behind at the scene, located near the intersection of City Avenue and Presidential Boulevard.
Witness accounts of the hit-and-run itself, including a medical student who tried to save Coyle's life with CPR at the scene, have not helped catch the driver who fled in the direction of the Schuylkill Expressway after the collision.
From the scene
As the hit-and-run occurred within eyeshot of two of Philadelphia's television-news stations, NBC10 reporter Jesse Gary and photographer Samantha Dunn had just turned onto City Avenue about a block away en route to an early morning assignment.
Gary recalled seeing cars stopped and people running toward the intersection. Dunne, he said, noticed a body in the street. When Dunne went to park the news truck, Gary "ran over to find out what happened and saw that someone had been hit by a car."
His initial thought of performing CPR proved unnecesary when the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine student "had a better handle on that than I would."
"I just started talking to bystanders. What did you see? What type of vehicle was it? Which direction was the car heading? Were there spinners? Decorative objects?" he recalled of the instinctual mental checklist that mirrors both newsgathering and report-filing activities, which was helpful considering police had not yet arrived.
"We had a vague description," he said of the estimated eight witnesses at the scene. "Access to both the Schuylkill Expressway and Roosevelt Boulevard is right there, and nobody saw exactly which one [the driver took]. Given the level of information available that night, it was a daunting task to catch the driver unless someone followed the car."
Sgt. Joseph Rossa, who handles AID cases involving fatalities, and Officer William Lackman, who was initially assigned to this hit-and-run, hope tips from the public can help them solve the case for the Coyle family.
To that end, Citizens Crime Commission Vice President Santo Montecalvo said a $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the hit-and-run driver.
Half of the reward money was offered by Coyle's large family, with AAA Mid-Atlantic matching that amount. Also, the Justice for Patrick Coyle Sr. Facebook page notes that a beef-and-beer fundraiser will be held at St. John the Baptist in Manayunk on Feb. 2.
"We need the public's help, but I'm hoping the individual has a conscience and comes forward," said Rossa.
Rossa estimated that more than half of city hit-and-runs were solved in 2012. Traditionally, he said he's noticed that prosecutors "go easier" on those who are cooperative and forthright even after initially fleeing.
"Some of these cases were just plain accidents, like the pedestrian had just stepped out in the roadway," Rossa said during an interview at AID headquarters, 26th and Master streets. "The problem is when the driver takes off."
A family mourns
NBC10 reported that Coyle, his girlfriend Joy Zasowski and their 13-year-old son lived in the nearby Presidential City apartments, where he worked as the new maintenance man.
Having been in contact with families in these cases, Lackman said that there is a consistent thread uniting them.
"They want to know how [a driver] can just leave someone out in the road, like a bag of trash," he said. "Nobody can understand that."
Both Rossa and Lackman said that if a tip comes in, it could be from someone who noticed a dent on a neighbor's car matching the description of a four-door passenger vehicle, initially described as gold but evidence more closely resembled silver. (In fact, the officers showed how the pieces left at the scene change color when light is shined upon it.)
The vehicle was described to have round tail lights that lit up like circles.
As for the evidence which investigators are working with to help pinpoint a make and model of the vehicle, Lackman showed NewsWorks eight small pieces of the vehicle left at the scene which have been glued and taped together.
Still, said Rossa, even if they nail down a firm desciption of the vehicle, it would not help as much as a tip from someone who saw damage to a similar car.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Accident Investigation Division at (215) 685-3180, the tipsline at (215) 686-8477 or the Citizens Crime Commission at (215) 546-6532. Tips can also be submitted via text to PPD TIP (773847) or the department's website.