Judge rules police seizure was illegal

Last updated: March 18. 2014 11:37PM - 3836 Views
By - rdupuis@civitasmedia.com

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WILKES-BARRE — City police seized hit-and-run suspect Daniel Loughnane’s truck illegally and the vehicle may not be used as evidence at trial, Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough has ruled.

“At the time the defendant’s vehicle was seized without a warrant by the Wilkes-Barre City Police Department, the defendant had not been placed in custody and the vehicle was located on private property,” Vough wrote in an outline of the conclusions supporting his order, which was filed Monday.

Police took custody of the blue Ford F-350 from Loughnane’s home at 71 W. Liberty St., Hanover Township, 16 days after Rebecca McCallick, 19, was struck by a vehicle on Hazle Avenue, Wilkes-Barre. She died later at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.

Loughane stands accused of fleeing the scene of a fatal crash.

The truck isn’t the only element of the prosecution’s case now banished from trial.

According to an affidavit, McCallick’s boyfriend, John Schenck, told police he and McCallick were arguing when she ran out of their apartment at 199 Hazle Ave. early in the morning of July 24, 2012. Schenck told police he was yelling from a second-floor window at McCallick to get off the road when he saw a vehicle speeding up Hazle Avenue and strike McCallick, the affidavit states.

Vough ruled that visual and audio identification of the truck made by Schenck at city police headquarters also is inadmissible, saying such evidence arose “due to the illegal seizure” of Loughnane’s truck, and thus is “determined to be the fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The judge said he will allow still photos taken from the city’s Hawkeye security cameras nearby on South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard to be admitted, but only Schenck may testify about whether a vehicle seen in the images resembles the truck he said he saw on Hazle Avenue.

Police said in a previous affidavit that the truck was seized to preserve evidence when efforts to locate Loughnane were unsuccessful on the night of Aug. 9, 2012.

That affidavit alleges Loughnane’s family and employees and patrons at Liam’s Place, a tavern Loughnane owns on North Washington Street, refused to cooperate in providing Loughnane’s cellphone number to police.

Other reasons police provided in the affidavit for taking the truck without a warrant was the lateness of the hour, it was not known by police if anyone had access to the vehicle and keys were found in a toolbox in the truck’s bed, according to the affidavit.

“There were reasons why,” Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis told The Times Leader when asked in 2012 about impounding the truck without a warrant.

“We researched it whether or not it was permitted. We found that it would be, based on the facts of this investigation,” Salavantis said then.

Salavantis on Tuesday said she could not comment on the matter.

Vough pointed out that, generally, a search or seizure is unreasonable unless supported by a valid search warrant showing probable cause.

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