PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man must stand trial on third-degree murder and other charges after leading police on a Thanksgiving Day chase that ended when he collided with a car that burst into flames, killing the driver, his fiancee and her toddler daughter, a judge ruled Friday.
Demetrius Coleman, 23, of Pittsburgh, was traveling at least 82 mph (132 kph) in a 40 mph (64 kph) zone when he broadsided the victims' car at a busy intersection on Route 30 in North Versailles, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from where police in East McKeesport had stopped him for making an illegal left turn, according to police testimony at his preliminary hearing.
North Versailles Officer Norman Locke, the closest officer giving chase, was hundreds of yards away when he saw through traffic part of the crash that killed David Bianco, 28; Kaylie Meininger, 21; and her 2-year-old daughter, Annika, as they were driving to a holiday dinner that afternoon.
"I saw the white vehicle spinning," Locke said, referring to the car Coleman was driving, "and an immediate fireball erupted upward."
Allegheny County coroner's reports indicated that Meininger and her daughter were badly burned and died of various trauma injuries; Bianco died of head and neck injuries.
Locke estimated Coleman was driving 100 mph (161 kph) during the pursuit. Cpl. John Weaver, a state police accident reconstructionist who testified Coleman's speed was "at least 82 to 84 mph" at impact, said Bianco's car was hit so hard it traveled 42 to 48 mph (68 to 77 kph) sideways after impact.
Coleman has also been charged with driving under the influence because police found marijuana in his system after the crash. Coleman's female companion was found with heroin and faces separate charges, and authorities have said the couple was driving around selling drugs in the hours before the crash.
East McKeesport Officer Scott Lowden testified he pulled over Coleman for making the illegal turn, and both cars stopped in a convenience store parking lot. Coleman didn't have a license — it was suspended — or registration for the car, and Lowden learned of the drug warrant when he ran Coleman's name through a police records check. Lowden had just gotten Coleman's birth date and Social Security number so he could confirm Coleman was the man wanted for arrest when Coleman sped away.
Locke had been called in for backup and gave chase. Two other officers, one driving to work in a private vehicle and another from North Versailles, Officer Daniel Gallo, were driving toward the traffic stop when Coleman came speeding by — weaving into and around their cars in the opposite lanes of travel — moments before the crash.
Coleman remains jailed without bond. His lawyer didn't comment on the judge's decision.
The victims' relatives attended the hearing but left without commenting.