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March 02, 2023

Driver who fatally struck Lower Merion firefighter on I-76 sentenced to prison

Jacquelyn Walker, 64, killed Thomas Royds and injured three other first responders in July 2021. She pleaded guilty last fall

Courts Crashes
Thomas Royds Firefighter Lower Merion Lower Merion Fire Department/Facebook

Lower Merion Township firefighter Thomas Royds, 48, died on July 24, 2021 after he and three other first responders were struck by driver while responding to an earlier crash on I-76. The driver, Jacquelyn Walker, 64, of New Jersey, was sentenced to 12 to 24 years in prison.

The South Jersey woman who crashed her Jeep into a group of people on the Schuylkill Expressway in July 2021, killing a Lower Merion firefighter and injuring three other first responders, was sentenced Thursday to 12 to 24 years in prison.

Jaqueline Walker, 64, of Egg Harbor Township, pleaded guilty last October to charges stemming from the crash that killed 58-year-old Thomas Royds, a longtime member of the Belmont Hills Fire Co. She had been charged with third-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault and four counts of reckless endangerment. 

Royds and other first responders were at the scene of a DUI crash in the westbound lanes of I-76 near Waverly Road, between the Gladwyne and Conshohocken exits, around 3:20 a.m. on July 24, 2021. 

Walker drove her Jeep Grand Cherokee onto the right shoulder of the highway, where the fire trucks were parked with their emergency lights activated, and struck Royds, two other firefighters and a state trooper. The Jeep then crashed into a vehicle involved in the initial crash, police said. 

Royds went into cardiac arrest at the scene, and he was taken to Paoli Hospital where he died. The two other firefighters, also with the Belmont Hills Fire Co, required surgery for their injuries. The state trooper was transported to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in West Philadelphia.

During the initial investigation, police said Walker admitted she had been drinking and had gotten lost before the crash. Authorities later withdrew the DUI charge after receiving a toxicology report that contradicted Walker's statements. 

Investigators believe the crash was caused by faulty brakes on Walker's Jeep and the fact that she was speeding in the moments before impact. Walker knew about the problems with her brakes and the overall run-down state of the car, but declined to replace the brakes and get other repair work done, prosecutors said. 

Crash investigators said there was no evidence that Walker attempted to steer away from the first responders before striking them. 

Royds, a father of three, spent more than 30 years as a volunteer firefighter before becoming a career firefighter in 2019. In addition to serving Lower Merion's Belmont Fire Co., Royds volunteered as a captain at the Clifton Heights Fire Co. After his death, he was promoted to the rank of captain at Union Fire Association. Last October, Tregaron Road in Bala Cywnyd was designated Capt. Thomas E. Royds Way.