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Driver held for court in double-fatal crash

From the hospital where she was recovering from her injuries, CrystalLee N. Smith testified Tuesday by telephone to what she saw when a motorcycle ahead of her collided head-on with an oncoming car — killing the two riders on the bike — at the city’s side approach to the Arch Street bridge on the night of July 18.

The car hit the cycle so hard that the motorcycle flew over her vehicle, Smith, her voice cracking with emotion, said.

The operator of the cycle, James “Jimmy” Neufer, a resident of Armstrong Township, and a passenger, his girlfriend, Amanda Bergstrom, of Nisbet, were killed in the crash that occurred about 10:10 p.m.

The man behind the wheel of the car, Matthew Bower, 34, of 337 Herlocker Lane, Linden, was traveling north in the southbound lane when the deadly collision occurred, according to Smith, 39, and other witnesses.

After hitting the motorcycle, Bower’s 2003 Buick Century plowed into Smith’s Toyota Corolla; the collision sent the woman’s car into rotation before it went backwards down an embankment on the east side of Arch Street.

Following 90 minutes of testimony from five people during Bower’s preliminary hearing, District Judge Christian Frey ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Bower on all city police charges, including two counts each of homicide by vehicle and aggravated assault by vehicle, driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and related offenses.

Smith, who fought back tears during part of her testimony, said the crash “happened so fast.”

When Smith’s testimony was done, a passenger in her car, Madison Kimball, hobbled into the courtroom on crutches with a broken left foot to take the stand.

She testified that four bones at the top of her left foot were broken in the crash and that doctors put two pins in the foot during surgery. She said she was expected to need crutches for two to four weeks, and a brace for at least six weeks.

Kimball said she did not see Bower’s car until after it struck Neufer’s motorcycle. “It was all the way in the wrong lane,” she said, referring to the Buick Century.

Taking the stand after Kimball was Samantha Morgan, who witnessed the crash while riding across the bridge in a vehicle driven by her husband.

As the couple was traveling north on the bridge, Bower, coming from behind, suddenly passed them while he was traveling in the southbound lane “at a high rate of speed,” Morgan testified.

Seconds later, Morgan was on her cellphone with a 911 dispatcher reporting the violent crash. She saw Neufer’s and Bergstrom’s bodies in the road.

“Everything just happened so quickly. I didn’t see the actual point of impact (with Smith’s car). I just saw it spinning,” she said.

Frey’s hearing room was filled with about 20 masked people, including members of Bower’s family as well as the families of the two motorcycle victims. A handful of sheriff deputies also were present just in case emotions got out of hand or if anyone had to be removed. However, that did not happen. Everyone listened quietly to the testimony.

One woman quietly cried when she heard city Patrolman Thad Trafford described Neufer’s fatal injuries on the stand. Neufer, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel while Bergstrom, also 38, died at the UPMC Williamsport emergency room within an hour after the crash.

Trafford, one of the first officers on the scene, testified that Bower was alone in the Buick. The officer said Morgan, the 911 caller, told him that when Bower passed the couple, she thought he was going 90 mph.

Trafford testified that he asked Bower “Are you alright,” and the driver responded that he was.

“How did this happen,” the officer asked him.

“I was traveling fast, really fast,” Bower replied, according to the officer’s testimony.

Trafford testified that he noticed that Bower’s eyes were bloodshot and that the driver’s speech was slurred and slow. “I could smell alcohol on his breath,” the officer said, adding that Bower admitted to him at the scene that he had consumed “four to five alcoholic drinks.”

Bower, taken by ambulance to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, suffered head and facial injuries as well as a broken left leg.

Patrolman Christopher Salisbury, the lead investigator in the case, also testified at the hearing

In order to attend the proceedings, Bower, accompanied by his parents and a sibling, entered Frey’s office building with the help of a walker. He is free on $500,0000 bail.

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