PLYMOUTH — Outraged.
Amid stifled tears, a little reminiscing and repeated descriptions of watching her boyfriend bleed to death in the street two days previously, that was the word Cathy Huk kept repeating during an interview outside her Nottingham Street home Friday afternoon.
“Vehicular homicide? Are you kidding me? That’s not justice. He’s going to be out in a couple of years,” Huk said.
Lorenzo Burgos Jr., 21, of 469 Third St., was arrested Wednesday night and charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving and careless driving causing unintentional death.
Fred John Kleman Jr., 42, of 256 East Main St., died after Burgos allegedly plowed a white Toyota into Kleman as he stood talking with friends. By Burgos’ own admission, he was driving down the steep street bent on retaliation after Kleman had slapped the passing car and yelled at Burgos to slow down as he drove uphill minutes earlier, according to a police account.
Huk, 55, is outraged that Burgos is facing vehicular homicide instead of a more serious charge, pointing to police affidavits indicating that Burgos admitted arming himself with iron bars before heading back to the scene of the earlier altercation to fight Kleman against the advice of his own fiancée.
She’s outraged that the most serious charge against Burgos carries a maximum sentence of “only” 3½ to seven years in prison, despite his admission to police, and despite reports that she and other witnesses heard Burgos say that he wanted to kill Kleman as he climbed out of the car after driving into Kleman at about 7:50 p.m. Wednesday.
And Huk is outraged a community that four decades ago was a welcome refuge from the escalating crime of her native Staten Island, N.Y., feels increasingly more dangerous.
“He left. He had time to think. That’s premeditated. That was planned,” Huk said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis on Friday said she can understand that Huk — and members of the community — might not agree with the charges, but they are supported by evidence collected thus far in the investigation.
Salavantis could not comment on the specifics of that evidence, nor to whom police have spoken, she said, but stressed that the investigation is not complete and that the charges can be amended up until Burgos’ preliminary hearing, which was set for 1 p.m. Aug. 21.
“Believe me, from the minute I received the call, I’ve paid close attention to this matter, and we’re doing everything possible and talking to everyone we need to talk to,” Salavantis said. “I want to make sure I’ve covered everything.”
What Salavantis said she will not do is “charge too much” without evidence to support the allegations.
“We need to do what is ethical,” she said. “That is our job and our responsibility.”
Huk, who described being one of several people on the sidewalk as Burgos came driving down the hill, said Friday that police did not speak to her Wednesday night. She quickly left the scene to ride with Kleman in an ambulance to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 9:04 p.m. However, said Huk, police also have not contacted her since.
A police affidavit reveals that police did speak to at least four people, including Burgos as well as Ronald Faye Miller and Michael A. Olexy Jr., two neighbors who reportedly were standing with Kleman and managed to jump out of the way as the white Toyota approached.
Huk frequently choked back tears Friday, but said she was glad to speak with area’s news media if doing so raised awareness of the case.
“That’s my sentence,” Huk said angrily, gesturing toward orange spray paint and dark stains on the asphalt that mark the spot where Kleman, 42, landed after being struck. “I have to look at that now, every day.”
Burgos was arraigned Thursday morning before District Judge Donald Whittaker and sent to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $1 million bail, with a preliminary hearing set for Aug. 21 at 1 p.m.
Huk admitted she is uneasy about staying in the neighborhood where her boyfriend died this week and where his alleged killer lived only two blocks away. “I don’t know if I want to stay here. In Plymouth, maybe, but not here,” she said.
In those two blocks, a distance of about 1,000 feet, Burgos allegedly managed to get the car moving 30 or 40 mph, telling police he wanted to scare Kleman, then stop. He told police he might have stepped on the wrong pedal, and when he tried to stop, he felt the car drift sideways.
According to the police affidavit, Burgos said he was initially driving uphill with his fiancée’s minor children in the car, when he heard a “boom” against the Toyota as he passed a shirtless man who walked out into the street, yelling. Burgos admitted making an obscene gesture at the man. The man returned the gesture, he said, then squatted in the street, motioning for him to come back.
Burgos told police he drove home to drop off the children, related the incident to his fiancée and told her he was returning to fight the man. She advised him against doing so, but Burgos said he decided to go anyway, taking two metal bars with him.
A Times Leader reporter and photographer visited a Third Street home Friday afternoon in an effort to speak with the fiancée or other members of Burgos’s family. A woman who answered the door declined to speak with a reporter.
Huk said she didn’t only lose a man she had known and loved for 13 years, but a vital business partner. She owns five buildings in the area, containing 14 rental units, including her own. Kleman acted as her maintenance man, she said, even during a two-year period when they had split up.
His death is the latest in a string of incidents that have pushed her to the breaking point. Aside from illegal drug activity, fights and even stray bullets in the neighborhood, this is the second death, and both hit close to home.
On Dec. 14, 2009, Robert George Zola fatally stabbed his girlfriend, Rosemarie Cave, 35, in the home they shared on Nottingham Street, and was later convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to state prison. That crime scene wasn’t only across the street from Huk, it’s one of her properties, and Cave was her tenant.
Huk is fed up, but she knows leaving is easier said than done, especially with so much property in her name. Between a weak real estate market and growing crime in the area, she fears it won’t be easy to sell those assets.
“If you can’t tell somebody to slow down without them killing you,” she asked, “who is going to speak up when they see drug dealers?”