Bethlehem Press

Sunday, May 26, 2019
Emma Raymondo Emma Raymondo

NORCO: DA announces charges against child-killing driver

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 by bernie o’hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Twelve-year-old Emma Raymondo was a seventh-grader at Easton MS, a member of the Junior National Honor Society and a high yellow belt at the Lehigh Valley Martial Arts School. On Sept. 22, while she and her siblings were walking home from an ice cream trip to the Sheetz Convenience Store along Route 248 in Palmer Township, she was struck and killed by a person whom Palmer Police believe was distracted by his cellphone

Emma was off the roadway. Dylan T. Groff, age 21, was off the roadway, too. But he was driving, not walking. He had just left Wal-Mart at 8:04 pm, and video surveillance showed he was looking at his telephone screen. According to investigators, he had been using the Google Chrome Internet browser from 7:57 p.m., when he was still at Wal Mart, until 8:06 p.m, after he was already on the road. After that, Groff and two others began exchanging Facebook messages at 8:08:22 p.m, with the last message being sent by Groff at 8:10:06 p.m. They were discussing dinner options. Then, at 8:11:08 p.m, he used his cell phone to call 911 after striking Emma.

Groff admitted he had been using his cellphone, but said he thought he was off sooner than forensic evidence reveals. He was cooperative with police and upset by what had happened. There is no evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, or that he was speeding. The evidence is that he wandered off the roadway and onto the shoulder because he had been distracted by his cellphone.

On Nov. 29, DA John Morganelli announced the following charges against Groff: homicide by vehicle (Felony 3); aggravated assault by vehicle (Felony 3); involuntary manslaughter (Misdemeanor 1); reckless endangerment (Misdemeanor 2); reckless driving (summary); careless driving (summary); and driving on roadways laned for traffic (summary). He faces a maximum sentence of 22 years behind bars and $46,200 in fines. Because he was texting and his conduct resulted in death, an additional seven years could be added to the penalty.

Morganelli said texting while driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. He cited statistics that in Pennsylvania, over 14,800 crashes in 2015 were the result of distracted driving. Nationwide, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 15 percent of injury crashes and 14 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes are the result of distracted driving. This could be cell phone use or more innocent distractions.

Groff has been arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Jacqueline Taschner, who set bail at $50,000 unsecured. His preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 13.

“You never get used to looking into the eyes of a Mom and Dad and siblings who have just lost a young child,” said Morganelli, who had prosecuted these kinds of crimes for the past 25 years. “These are always difficult meetings and are emotional for me and family members.” But Emma’s family agreed that Morganelli could use what happened to Emma as an example to warn the public and possibly save lives.

He admitted that even he has been distracted at times by his cellphone. But on behalf of Emma and her family, he said we should all examine our own behavior and put down those cellphones.

“New drivers must be given simple, clear instructions not to use their wireless devices while driving. Before our young people get their licenses, we should discuss the fact that taking their eyes off the road - even for a few seconds - could cause someone injury or death.

“We all have to lead by example. As I indicated, none of us can say we never did this. But the truth is no-one should text and drive. We can be an example for others. If we need to text, we can pull over to a safe place, making sure our vehicle is not in motion.

“We can become informed and active. We should all tell family, friends and anyone who is willing to listen of the importance of driving without distractions. Schools can play a role in this.”

A new feature on iPhone’s software might make it easier to keep your eyes on the road. A “Do Not Disturb While Driving” message silences incoming notifications until you reach your destination.

A “GoFundMe” page to help pay for Emma’s funeral expenses has raised over $10,000.