Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, April 28, 2014
Bristol man charged with DUI in wreck that killed Falls teen
Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Zachary Gonzalez was 3 when a drunken driver killed his dad. At the age of 9, he lost his mother to leukemia.
The Pennsbury High School freshman died Jan. 19, three days after he turned 15, when his bike was struck by a 60-year-old Bristol man who allegedly was driving under the influence of cocaine and prescription medications.
Zachary Gonzalez on his 15th birthday
But Brian Patterson isn’t being charged in the teen’s death. Instead, he’s facing charges of driving under the influence of a controlled substance and related offenses, according to court documents filed Tuesday. Patterson will receive a summons in the mail detailing his charges.
On Tuesday, Kelli Donlen, Zachary’s aunt and legal guardian, expressed frustration that Patterson was not charged in her nephew’s death.
“A tragic accident is one thing, but a tragic accident with drugs in your system is another thing,” she said. “That is the thing I can’t wrap my head around.”
Law enforcement referred questions on the charges to Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Matt Hoover who referred to the probable cause affidavit.
Tullytown police and the Bucks County District Attorney’s Homicide by Vehicle Task Force conducted an extensive reconstruction, but did not find Patterson at fault for the accident, according to the affidavit.
“As a result of the investigation, no chargeable violations (were) found in relation to crash causation,” the affidavit said.
Donlen said she was told by police that Patterson did not have enough time to stop before he struck Zachary, who was crossing the highway on his bike. But she is skeptical.
Zachary and two friends were riding bikes along southbound Route 13 in a construction zone around 4:30 p.m. when Zachary was struck by Patterson’s Volkswagen just below the Mill Creek Road exit, authorities said.
Zachary sustained significant head trauma and was pronounced dead at the scene, a second unidentified boy was injured and taken to St. Mary Medical Center for treatment. The third boy was not injured.
Patterson stopped his car and cooperated with police. Court documents state that Patterson had slow, slurred speech and was hard to understand when he explained to police how the accident happened. He also exhibited other signs of impairment, police said. He agreed to have blood drawn at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township for chemical testing.
When police frisked Patterson, they said they found a small, empty pill bottle that was prescribed to someone else. Patterson allegedly told police his “perc 10s” were kept in the bottle, referring to the prescription opiate painkiller Percocet.
Police executed a search warrant on his car and found “multiple pills” and five pipe-like items, according to the affidavit. A lab analysis of the items found cocaine residue on the pipe and the pills tested positive for oxycodone and zolpidem, a prescription sedative.
Police allege Patterson, while at police headquarters, repeatedly requested to return to his car to get his “oxys.” But when they asked if Patterson had a prescription for the pain drugs, he reportedly told them he didn’t.
Blood test results found that Patterson had diazepam, nordiazepam, cocaine and benzoylecgonine in his system at the time of the accident, according to the affidavit.
Zachery’s 47-year-old father, Reinaldo “Ray” Gonzalez, was struck and killed by a 32-year-old Philadelphia man who was intoxicated along State Road in Philadelphia in 2002.
Six years later, death visited Zachary again, when his mother, Joanne Donlen Gonzalez, was admitted to the hospital with suspected pneumonia, but was soon diagnosed with leukemia. She died three days later, Kelli Donlen said.
“He was only 9 years old and his mom was his best friend,” Donlen said. “He was very close to his mom. That is what gives me peace. I know he’s with his parents.”
After his mom’s death, Zach went to live with Donlen and her husband — Joanne Gonzalez’s brother — in their Falls home. She said he was a work in progress, still reeling from losing both parents before turning 10.
“Zach was very quiet and reserved in the beginning, but the last year he came out of his shell,” Donlen said.
He had many friends — more than 300 people attended his funeral. He loved wrestling, and he was a member of Pennsbury’s junior varsity wrestling team. Zach loved riding his long board, video games and science.
He was a voracious reader who loved the “Divergent” and “Game of Throne” series, Donlen said, adding she donated 60 books from Zach’s collection to the Gift of Life organ transplant program. Zach was also looking forward to becoming an uncle, she said.
“He was truly a good kid. He had so much to offer,” Donlen added. “He touched a lot of lives in good ways.”
The day before he was killed, Zachary returned from a Disneyworld trip to celebrate his 15th birthday. Kelli Donlen took him and a friend for the four-day adventure, where they rode all the theme park rides, hung out at the pool, and experienced Disney Quest on his Jan. 16 birthday.
About a week after Zach’s death, Donlen said she found a rough draft of a school project in his bedroom. It was his autobiography. In reading it, Donlen found out many things she didn’t know about her nephew.
He expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the health care field, said Donlen, who is a nurse. She also learned just how much her shy nephew really appreciated and loved his family. Among his long-term goals was buying his first house at age 23, and starting a family at age 24.
He listed his values as education, achievements, wealth and family, she said.
While she is still in mourning, Donlen vows to attend every one of Patterson’s court appearances.
“This man can look me in the face and see what he has taken from me. I have a lot of questions,” she said. “This man needs to be responsible. That will always nag at my brain if he hadn’t been impaired would he have seen Zach.”