Suspect to be arraigned May 27
By CASEY MCNERTHNEY
A man who police say hit and killed a cyclist with his Porsche 944 last summer was charged Friday with vehicular homicide.
John Dempsey Morris, 27, could face 15 to 20 months in prison for killing John Leoni near Aurora Avenue North. The sentencing guidelines are set by the Legislature.
The night of July 1, 2009, Leoni left his job in Shoreline at Banchero Friends Services, a program that supports people with developmental disabilities. He was near the lower Queen Anne residence he shared with his girlfriend when the collision occurred about 10:15 p.m.
While Morris was completing a 10-to-12-degree right turn from southbound Aurora to Dexter Way North, Leoni “was apparently intent on crossing Dexter Way North at that location and continuing southbound on the western sidewalk of Aurora Avenue North,” Detective Ron Sanders wrote in court documents.
Morris’ black Porsche caused catastrophic injuries, authorities said, and Leoni died at the scene. He was 35.
Police said a reconstruction of the collision determined the speed of Morris’ vehicle was between 60 and 65 mph. It’s unknown if Leoni stopped at the curb ramp before attempting to cross Dexter Way North, but he was struck as he entered the unmarked crosswalk, investigators said.
Investigators say Dexter Way North has a clearly marked 15 mph recommended yellow curve sign, though in another document police said Dexter has an unposted speed limit of 30 mph. The southbound lanes of the 2300 block of Aurora Avenue North, near where the collision happened, have a posted speed limit of 40 mph.
“Further analysis suggested that had Morris’ vehicle simply been traveling 40-mph at the point (both in time and location) where he first detected Bicyclist Leoni crossing his intended path of travel, the collision would not have occurred,” Sanders wrote in a probable cause statement.
Morris had been with a recreational sports team in North Seattle and allegedly admitted drinking before the collision, police said.
A mandatory blood sample examined by the State Patrol toxicology lab showed his blood alcohol level was .02 — below the legal limit of .08, according to court documents. No drugs were detected in his blood sample.
“Although he exhibited some effects of having consumed alcohol, there was insufficient evidence that he was impaired by alcohol at the time of the crash,” Sander wrote.
Morris is not in custody, and prosecutors did not object to his freedom on the condition he drive with a valid license and insurance, not have any moving violations and not drive within two hours of consuming alcohol.
Morris has no known criminal or traffic history, according to court documents. An arraignment where Morris is expected to enter a plea is scheduled for May 27.
A spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Tuesday a defense attorney for Morris has not contacted his office, and Morris’ father, listed in court documents as an emergency contact, did not return a message from seattlepi.com Tuesday afternoon.
Seattle police say it’s not uncommon for vehicular assault investigations to take several months because of the scene dynamics.
Friends said Leoni wanted to have a low impact on the environment, so he biked to his job and most every place he went. Banchero’s executive director, CaraLee Cook, said he had traveled thousands of bike mikes.
Leoni came to Seattle from Cleveland with a master’s degree in history. He’d also worked for The Arc of San Francisco and volunteered to help people become better self-advocates through People First of Shoreline.
His resume on file at Banchero told of his 4.0 grade-point average in the master’s program. In his cover letter, Leoni said he wanted the job because working and communicating with people was what he enjoyed most.
Banchero helps about two-dozen adults, and Leoni worked primarily with seven. Staff said he had a remarkable ability to look beyond negative behaviors and see the true needs the people they support were trying to communicate.
“He would know and touch every life,” Cook, who hired Leoni in August 2006, said last year. Grief counselors helped people at Banchero deal with their loss in the days after the collision.
Leoni was recognized in 2007 as the staff person who made the most significant contribution in the state, being named Direct Support Professional of the Year by the Community Residential Services Association.
Last year, Banchero developed The John Leoni Partnership in Advocacy Award — a distinction to be given each year to an outstanding person helping with self-advocacy work, Cook said Tuesday. The first award was given in September.
“As my heart is breaking it is also full of pride for what my son has accomplished in such a short life,” Leoni’s mother, Pauline Nemeth, told seattlepi.com last summer. “I always knew he was extraordinary.”
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