Philadelphia News & Search
A Port Richmond psychotherapist was found guilty Friday of vehicular homicide in last year’s hit-and-run death of a man riding a motor scooter on Lehigh Avenue.
The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury of six men and six women deliberated about three hours before finding Ramon M. Morales guilty of vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter, and leaving the scene of an accident in the April 13, 2016, death of Thomas Dunbar Jr., 35.
But the jury acquitted Morales, 63, of the more serious charge of third-degree murder. Assistant District Attorney Tracie Gaydos had argued for a third-degree-murder verdict, citing the fact that Morales dragged Dunbar’s body, wedged under his Pontiac Aztek, for 239 feet before stopping, backing up, and then driving off.
Over the objections of defense attorney Anthony Gil, Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi ordered Morales immediately taken into custody pending his sentencing July 25.
Gil argued that Morales should be allowed to remain free on $100,000 bail pending sentencing. But the judge said Morales was a flight risk, noting that when he was arrested a day after the accident, Morales had his bags packed including his passport and $250 in cash.
Morales is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic.
“While I’m disappointed overall with the verdict, I’m pleased that the jury found Mr. Morales not guilty of third-degree murder,” Gil said afterward.
Gaydos said Morales faces a mandatory three to six years in prison.
Dunbar’s family declined to comment after the verdict.
According to trial testimony, Dunbar was heading home with takeout food on his Vespa scooter about 9 p.m. He was waiting to make a right turn from Aramingo Avenue onto Lehigh when the Aztek’s front passenger-side bumper hit him and knocked him from the scooter.
As witnesses on the scene screamed for him to stop, Morales dragged Dunbar’s body 239 feet before stopping, reversing to dislodge the body, and driving off.
Efrain Diaz said he chased the Aztek through Kensington in his Chrysler 300, lights flashing, horn honking.
Three times, Diaz said, he got alongside the Aztek and yelled that the driver had hit someone and had to go back. Each time, the Aztek driver pulled away. Finally, Diaz said, he managed to pass his quarry in the 3200 block of narrow Cedar Street and stopped and blocked the street.
“ ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ” Diaz said the Aztek’s driver demanded.
“I said that you hit a person, you need to go back and call the police,” Diaz said.
“ ‘Tomorrow,’ ” Diaz said Morales replied. “ ‘No, let’s do this tomorrow.’ ”
The Aztek backed down Cedar Street, hitting a parked car, and drove away, Diaz testified.
Diaz, however, had copied the Aztek’s license plate number, and later that evening police were back on Cedar Street outside Morales’ house. Police monitored the house until they got a warrant to enter the next morning.
Inside, police found Morales, two women, and a lawyer as well as his bags packed.
In his closing argument to the jury, Gil maintained that Dunbar first fell off his scooter and that Morales did not realize the 5-foot-10 188-pound man was trapped under his SUV.
Gil said Morales then fled because he did not know why Diaz’s car was pursuing him: “He was scared out of his mind: Who was this person who was following him street to street.”
Gaydos, however, argued that if witnesses heard the crash impact, it was impossible for Morales not to have known he hit someone.
“He wasn’t scared of Efrain Diaz,” Gaydos said. “He was scared of getting caught.”
Philadelphia News & Search