What to Know
- Jacqueline Walker, 63, of Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, is charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving and other related offenses.
- The charges are related to a crash on I-76 in Montgomery County in July that killed Lower Merion firefighter Thomas Royds and injured three other first responders.
- Walker had initially been charged with DUI but investigators later determined she wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead they say the poor condition of her vehicle and her failure to make the necessary repairs, led to the crash.
A New Jersey woman who police said drove her SUV through an emergency area on the Schuylkill Expressway in Montgomery County over the summer and struck and killed a firefighter while injuring three other first responders is now charged with third-degree murder. Her initial DUI charge was dropped.
Jacqueline Walker, 63, of Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, is charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving and other related offenses.
The crash occurred on July 24 at 3:23 a.m. on I-76 westbound at mile marker 335 between the Gladwyne exit and PA 23 (Conshohocken exit).
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Pennsylvania State Police and Belmont Hills Fire Company had been called to the area earlier that morning at 3:06 a.m. for another crash involving a Chevrolet Malibu and a Nissan Altima.
The cars were on the berm of the highway while a fire truck, with all of its emergency lights activated, was parked in the right-hand lane. A marked State Police vehicle was in the same lane in front of the fire truck and orange cones were in place behind it, directing traffic into the left-hand travel lane of I-76.
Vehicles were moving through the area at about 10 mph in the left-hand lane.
At 3:23 a.m., Walker drove her 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee at a high speed on the berm and crashed into four emergency responders, including Lower Merion firefighter Thomas Royds, 49, investigators said. The Jeep then hit the back of the Nissan Altima and pushed both vehicles 30 feet before they came to a stop.
Royds died from his injuries. Two other firefighters and a state trooper were also injured in the crash.
Walker was arrested and initially charged with homicide by vehicle-DUI and other related offenses.
Investigators later determined through toxicology tests however that Walker was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead, they said the poor condition of Walker’s vehicle and her failure to make the necessary repairs, led to the crash.
Officials determined Walker’s Jeep was in poor condition with severe rusting and only one functional brake. Previous records and evidence show that Walker knew that three of her four brakes were not functional yet she never fixed them and continued to drive her vehicle, according to investigators.
She had even been pulled over three times prior to the crash, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said.
"If that was not enough for her to realize that she should stop driving -- when she got warnings for driving without her headlights, driving with an inoperable brake light, driving with a license plate inoperable, two or three brake lights out, speeding -- despite all of that, she kept driving," Steele said.
On Tuesday, Steele announced that the Homicide by Vehicle-DUI charge against Walker was dropped while a third-degree murder charge was added.
“While the defendant was taken into custody at the scene of the crash, that was just the beginning of the investigation,” Steele said. “Our extensive investigation found that Walker operated her vehicle despite knowing that her brakes were not in functioning order, operating her vehicle in such an extreme reckless manner that she plowed through an active, well-marked emergency response area, severely injuring three first responders and killing another first responder, leading us to add the third-degree murder charge.”
Walker was arraigned Tuesday by a district judge who declined to set bail. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14.
Walker has been held at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on $500,000 cash bail since the crash.
Royds, who had been a firefighter in multiple area departments since 1988, left behind three college-age children, according to Lower Merion Chief Fire Officer Chas McGarvey.
“I used to work at this firehouse years ago. I knew Tommy’s family. His dad was a fireman, and his grandfather was a fireman when they first started this fire company,” Bill Coleman, a former Belmont Hills firefighter, told NBC10.
Royd’s death was the second gut punch to area firefighters in July. Only a few weeks prior, they had to witness another one of their own be laid to rest. Sean W. DeMuynck, a 35-year-old volunteer working his last shift before moving back to his native Canada, died while responding to a fire on July 4th in Wynnewood.
“We know it’s dangerous and, God, you never think something like this is going to happen,” McGarvey said. “We got it twice – twice in less than three weeks.”