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, June 9, 2014
Falls aunt upset driver who hit nephew waived hearing
Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2014
Kelli Donlen has been mentally bracing herself to face the man who struck and killed her 15-year-old nephew.
She even arranged to bring a small army of family and friends who wanted to hear what Brian Patterson and his attorney had to say in court about the accident that ripped apart her heart.
Zachary Gonzalez on his 15th birthday
But the Falls woman found out Thursday that she won’t get to face the 60-year-old Bristol man next week as expected. Instead, she’ll have to wait until his trial in Bucks County Court in Doylestown.
Patterson filed paperwork to waive his right to a preliminary hearing, sending his case directly to trial. Typically, defendants appear before a district court judge to waive their preliminary hearing, but they can opt to waive ahead of time and avoid a court appearance, according to the DA’s office.
The news was upsetting for Donlen, the aunt and guardian of Zachary Gonzalez, who was killed Jan. 19 after Patterson struck him and a friend while allegedly driving under the influence of prescription and illegal drugs. The boys and a third friend had been riding bikes along four-lane Route 13 highway.
“I had 10 to 12 people coming so he can see what he had taken from us,” said Donlen, who raised Zachary with her husband since he was 9 years old. “I don’t understand this, how do criminals get better treatment than victims?”
Patterson is charged with driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. If convicted of DUI, he faces a mandatory three days in jail and up to a year for each of the drug charges.
Patterson doesn’t face criminal charges in the death of Zachary or for injuring Zachary’s friend Jeffrey Garvie, 14, of Falls, after the district attorney’s office said an “extensive” accident reconstruction found “no chargeable violations (were) found in relation to crash causation,” according to court documents.
The three teens were riding bikes along southbound Route 13 in a construction zone around 4:30 p.m. when Zachary and Jeffrey were 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. Jeffrey was taken to St. Mary Medical Center where he was hospitalized for two days with multiple injuries. The third boy wasn’t injured.
The Tullytown police accident report contains few details about the accident and no witness accounts, according to a copy obtained by the Bucks County Courier Times.
Brian Patterson in his driver's license photo
A narrative portion of the report describes the accident as occurring when Zachary and Jeffrey were attempting to cross Route 13 southbound. The report also indicates that Patterson showed “no avoidance maneuver,” and that both boys were on the shoulder of the road.
No other accident investigation reports are “publicly available” at this time, according to Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Matt Hoover, who is prosecuting Patterson.
Patterson stopped his car and cooperated with police. Court documents show Patterson showed signs of impairment. He agreed to blood tests, which showed he had diazepam, nordiazepam, cocaine and benzoylecgonine in his system at the time of the accident, according to the affidavit.
Zachary, who was a freshman at Pennsbury High School, turned 15 three days before his death. At age 3, Zach’s father, Reinaldo “Ray” Gonzalez, was killed after he was struck by a drunken driver while walking down a Philadelphia street. His mother, Donlen’s sister-in-law, died of leukemia when Zach was 9.
On Thursday, Donlen said she believed that Patterson may have waived his hearing to avoid facing her and other family members, who have vowed to attend every court proceeding.
“Is he trying to avoid what he’s done to this family? He needs to see what he did to us,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Zach paid the ultimate price, and he is going to get three days? I live by the law. I do the right things. How do they get away with this?”