PLYMOUTH — Fred John Kleman Jr. yelled at a speeding driver to slow down Wednesday night, and police say it cost him his life.
Facing homicide charges in the Plymouth man’s death is Lorenzo Burgos, 21, who allegedly drove back to the 100 block of Nottingham street in pursuit of Kleman following the encounter, mowing him down and then leaping out of the car threatening to kill the 42-year-old as he lay bleeding in the street beside two smashed vehicles.
According to police, Burgos, of 469 Third Street claimed he went back to the scene to fight Kleman, against the advice of his own fiancée. Burgos did not intend to run the man over, he told troopers, but he hit the wrong pedal and could not stop because his tires are bad.
Burgos is being held in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $1 million bail.
Witnesses said Kleman and several neighbors, Ronald Faye Miller, Michael A. Olexy Jr. and Olexy’s uncle, Michael Merth, were talking beside the street and saw a white Toyota Celica coming up the steep Nottingham Street hill at a high rate of speed, state police said.
“Olexy related there was a child crossing the street up the hill, so Fred stepped out onto the street to get the white car to slow down,” according to a police affidavit.
“As the car passed, Fred slapped the trunk of the car and yelled, ‘this is not an (expletive) race track,’” Olexy told police. The driver slowed down, gave Kleman the middle finger and drove off, Olexy added.
Between five and 10 minutes later, Olexy, Miller and Kleman were still standing outside when they saw the same white car rushing back down the street toward them. Olexy and Miller jumped aside, but Kleman was not able to move in time and was struck by the car, the pair told troopers.
The Toyota struck another vehicle, and then witnesses said Burgos reportedly got out, brandishing a metal object.
“Where is he at? I’m gonna kill him,” Miller said he heard Burgos shout.
Merth tried to restrain Burgos until police arrived, but the suspect broke free and ran away down the hill, troopers said.
Kleman was taken by ambulance to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 9:04 p.m.
Larksville police Officer Joshua Evans arrested Burgos at a nearby convenience store a short time later.
In a police interview, Burgos described driving up Nottingham Street with two of his fiancée’s minor children in the car, and hearing a “boom” against his car as he passed a shirtless man who walked out into the street. Burgos admitted giving the man the finger. 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, telling his fiancée about the incident and that 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. Burgos told police he intended to speed toward the man, “slam on the brakes” and stop.
The suspect then described returning to Nottingham Street, accelerating downhill at 30 or 40 MPH as he observed the man who struck his car standing in the street near a parked vehicle.
“He said as he got closer to the man, he hit the accelerator instead of the brake, or possibly both,” police said. When Burgos hit the brakes, he felt the car drift sideways, running into the man and then the parked vehicle.
Burgos said that as he stepped out of the car, two men ran toward him, so he grabbed a metal bar and ran. He told police one man grabbed him and placed him in a headlock, but he was able to break free and ran toward Main Street, where he called 911 from the Convenient Mart.
Police charged Burgos with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving and careless driving causing unintentional death. He was arraigned Thursday morning before District Judge Donald Whittaker, with a preliminary hearing set for Aug. 21 at 1 p.m.