The woman police say caused the Oct. 26 crash that killed two students outside Warwick High School was charged with third-degree murder Thursday.
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said while Debra Slaymaker-Walker has no recollection of the crash, an investigation shows a “pattern of sustained reckless driving” that led to the multivehicle collision.
The two counts of third-degree murder filed against the 63-year-old Mount Joy woman are a rarity in homicide by vehicle cases, Stedman said at a Thursday morning news conference. The third-degree murder charge is based on “malice and sustained recklessness,” he said.
Jack R. Nicholson, 16, and Meghan Keeney, 17, died from injuries suffered in the crash. A third student, 17-year-old Rylan Beebe, was seriously injured.
Slaymaker-Walker, who also was seriously hurt in the crash, is in a medical facility and is not capable of walking or driving, Stedman said.
She’s there because Lancaster County Prison is not capable of addressing her medical issues, he said. Her arraignment is being deferred until she’s medically cleared.
Cause of crash unclear
“We may never fully know,” Stedman said when asked why the crash happened.
Tests found no alcohol, marijuana or other illicit substances in her blood, according to Stedman, and there was no evidence of such in her vehicle.
If police felt that a substance had caused the crash, he said, “We would have charged (her with) homicide by vehicle DUI.”
Stedman called Slaymaker-Walker’s driving purposeful, evasive and effective, not consistent “with somebody that has lost control of their vehicle because of any type of medical condition.”
Stedman cautiously said he was aware of Slaymaker-Walker’s history of seizures.
“We are aware … we have to be careful about what we talk about … medical issues,” he said. “I’m absolutely confident that we will be able to convict (her) of third-degree murder.”
He didn’t answer a question about medications, citing “ethical restrictions.”
Stedman also said the investigation showed vehicle failure wasn’t a factor.
Investigators spent six weeks reconstructing the crash, which occurred outside Warwick High School in the 200 block of West Orange Street in Lititz.
According to the affidavit of probable cause:
• Northern Lancaster County Regional Police were dispatched at 3:12 p.m. for a “reckless driver” on Temperance Hill Road near the intersection of West Lexington Road in Penn Township. An officer arrived in the area at 3:17 p.m., located Slaymaker-Walker’s vehicle and activated his vehicle’s lights and siren in an attempt to stop her.
• The officer complied with orders to cease the pursuit at 3:18 p.m. after Slaymaker-Walker failed to yield near the intersection of Temperance Hill and Longenecker roads in Warwick Township.
• Slaymaker-Walker’s car hit an occupied school bus at 3:18 p.m. at West Orange Street and Green Acre Road.
• Slaymaker-Walker then took action to avoid striking a Lititz Borough Police car on West Orange Street in front of Lititz Church of the Brethren in Lititz Borough.
• At 3:19 p.m., Slaymaker-Walker traveled past Warwick High School on West Orange Street and struck a minivan, which began the fatal chain-reaction crash.
“From the reconstruction we were able to determine that she was driving between 73 and 77 miles per hour at the time of the impact,” Stedman said, noting that was roughly three times the posted speed limit.
Slaymaker-Walker’s car went airborne and overturned, police said.
Several motorists called 911 before the crash, and a few others talked to police afterwards, according to the complaint.
One motorist told Lititz police she saw Slaymaker-Walker’s car stopped on Temperance Hill Road near West Lexington Road with vehicles backed up behind her. The motorist knocked on the window of Slaymaker-Walker’s car and tried to open the locked door, but she didn’t respond.
Stedman commended Slaymaker-Walker’s family, saying they also are victims, they did nothing wrong and they have been helpful in the investigation.
Asked if the charges were what the victims’ families wanted, he said the decision was his but “their input will be very important to us going forward as to how we proceed with this case.”
3rd-degree murder charges supported by sustained recklessness = disregard of extreme risk to others. #LititzCrash— Brett Hambright (@BrettHambright) December 6, 2018
Slaymaker-Walker sustained very serious injuries & is at an undisclosed medical facility. She will be arrested/arraigned when medically cleared for release. She can’t drive. #LititzCrash— Brett Hambright (@BrettHambright) December 6, 2018