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July 26, 2021

New Jersey woman charged with vehicular homicide, DUI for crash that killed Lower Merion firefighter on I-76

Thomas Royds, 49, died of injuries he suffered when the driver's SUV slammed into him and other emergency responders

Investigations Crashes
Thomas Royds Firefighter Lower Merion Fire Department/Facebook

Lower Merion Township firefighter Thomas Royds, 49, died Saturday after he and other first responders were struck by an SUV while responding to an earlier crash on I-76. Jacquelyn Walker, 63, of New Jersey, was charged with vehicular homicide and DUI in the deadly crash.

The New Jersey driver who investigators say struck and killed a Lower Merion firefighter, along with two others and a Pennsylvania state trooper, early Saturday morning in the westbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway, has been charged with vehicular homicide while DUI, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses.

The crash killed firefighter Thomas Royds, whose life was remembered during a memorial on Sunday. Royds, the two other firefighters and the trooper were on I-76 responding to an earlier crash that also allegedly involved drunk drivers, police said.

Jacquelyn Walker, of Little Egg Harbor, Ocean County, has been identified as the driver of the Jeep Grand Cherokee that struck the emergency responders after 3 a.m. Saturday as they prepared to leave the scene of the first crash.

Walker, who turned 63 on Saturday, according to court documents, allegedly drove her SUV onto the right shoulder of the highway, where the fire trucks were parked with emergency lights activated, and struck the four people. Royds was a firefighter with the Belmont Hills Fire Co. in Lower Merion. 

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 and the trooper was transported to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in West Philadelphia.

Police said Walker was seen leaning on her vehicle, visibly shaken, and repeating the words, "Oh, my God," after the crash. 

Investigators said Walker admitted she had been mixing drinks in her vehicle before the crash, and an open bottle of rum allegedly was found inside the Jeep. Troopers also allegedly saw Walker pour out a drink on the side of the road and said the cup smelled of alcohol.

Walker told authorities she had gotten lost after a visit to the Quaker Bridge Mall, which is located more than 35 miles away in Lawrence, New Jersey, and had made several stops seeking directions. She said she believed she was on I-295 in New Jersey at the time of crash and thought the Schuylkill Expressway was a five-lane highway. Walker also believed it was about 5 p.m. at the time of the crash, state police said.

Walker also is charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI for allegedly striking the other first responders. Notably, she was charged with violating Pennsylvania's new "Move Over" law requiring motorists to slow down and merge into a lane away away from emergency responders.

Court records available online Monday show Walker has not posted bail, which is set at $500,000 cash, and she remains in custody.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and Pennsylvania State Police Captain James Kemm said Monday the investigation remains ongoing.  

"The Pennsylvania State Police and Montgomery County Detectives are awaiting the result of laboratory testing and medical examinations as well as continuing to examine the crash, on-scene data, the vehicle and what occurred prior to the crash," they said in a joint statement. "We will seek justice for all of the victims of this terrible crash that sadly will have a lasting impact on the families of the first responders, the Lower Merion firefighting community and many others.”

In connection with the first crash on I-76, state police charged Tyre Malik McCall, of King of Prussia, and Cole Henry Strempel, of Pottstown, with DUI.