Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Lehigh DA: Hatboro man not criminally negligent in pedestrian death

Victim was a popular paraprofes­sional at Allentown school

- By Daniel Patrick Sheehan

ALLENTOWN >> A 77-yearold Hatboro man who was driving a van that struck and killed Dieruff High School teacher’s aide Angela Yowakim on a rainy morning outside the Allentown school was charged with summary offenses after a six-week investigat­ion by the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office found he was not criminally negligent.

Joseph Fling Jr., 77, of Hatboro, was charged with unintentio­nal death through careless driving and violating the rightof-way of a pedestrian in a crosswalk, both summary offenses for which citations have been issued. The careless driving charge carries a six-month suspension of driver’s license upon conviction.

Yowakim, 25, a Dieruff graduate who became a paraprofes­sional at the school, was fatally hit about 6:42 a.m. Sept. 6 near North Irving Street and Andre Reed Way in Allentown.

In a news release, District Attorney Jim Martin said Fling was going about 37 mph in the 30 mph zone outside the school, a speed “not considered excessive or grossly negligent.” He had his windshield wipers and headlights on, stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigat­ors, Martin said. He was not under the influence of any substance and was not using a cell phone.

Yowakim did not seem to see the van coming, Martin said.

“This is based on video which shows no slowing or stopping in her travel path, i.e., she walked directly into the path of Fling’s vehicle,” he said.

The video suggests Fling was keeping up with the traffic flow at the time, Martin said.

“At least two vehicles which were ahead of him passed through the crosswalk before he came into it. He is being charged because there is probable cause to believe that he should have been able to observe Ms. Yowakim in the cross walk and should have been able to bring his vehicle to a safe stop.”

That constitute­s ordinary negligence, not gross or criminal negligence, so a homicide by vehicle charge was not warranted, Martin said.

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, police Chief Charles Roca and former superinten­dent John Stanford held a news conference the day after the crash to discuss traffic safety in the area. Martin criticized them for doing so.

“Several questions posed by the media at that press conference were not answered,” he said. “Although appropriat­e at that time due to the ongoing nature of the investigat­ion, not answering helped fuel public speculatio­n that the driver left the scene and/ or that he was impaired. Neither was true. In fact, Mr. Fling stopped immediatel­y, was not impaired at all, and cooperated fully with the police investigat­ion.

“This instance represents a sound reason for not holding a press conference before all the facts have been determined.”

“This was a tragic accident resulting in the death of a popular, vibrant and much-loved young woman.,” Martin said. “We in law enforcemen­t express our sincere sympathies to her family and friends. However, although certainly tragic, the facts obtained by this investigat­ion, including reconstruc­tion of the crash, support only the charges which have been filed.”

Yowakim primarily worked with special education teacher Rachel Smith, helping disabled students learn life skills and become more independen­t. Smith told The Morning Call that Yowakim was instrument­al to the success of the lessons, especially when it came to making sure all the classroom technology was working for students during remote learning because of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

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