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WOBURN -- As the one-year anniversary of the crash that claimed the life of Lowell police Officer Patrick "P.J." Johnson approaches, court documents reveal that not only was the man accused of killing him drunk, Johnson was himself nearly twice the legal limit and speeding on his Harley-Davidson at 75 mph.
Prosecutor Christopher Tarrant alleges that Theary Chan, 26, of Lowell, was legally drunk during the early-morning hours of Sept. 11, 2010, when he drove through a stop sign on Foster Street in Lowell. In the intersection, Johnson, who had also been drinking while off duty, slammed into the side of Chan's car with his motorcycle.
Chan's blood-alcohol content was .13, nearly twice the legal limit of .08, while Johnson's was slightly higher at .14, according to court documents unsealed this week.
While both men were legally intoxicated, the Middlesex District Attorney's Office charged Chan with motor-vehicle homicide under the contributory-negligence law.
The law states that in criminal cases, as opposed to civil negligence suits, a victim's "contributory negligence," even if it constitutes a substantial part (but not the sole cause), does not excuse a defendant whose conduct also causes the death of another.
Trooper Bryan Roderick, a state police accident reconstructionist, estimates Johnson was going 75 mph as he sped through the intersection, while Chan, who says he stopped at the stop sign before going through the intersection, was traveling 22 mph.
Roderick's report stated that based on its speed prior to impact, Chan's Honda could not have stopped at the posted stop sign on Foster Street before entering the intersection.
Johnson, 31, suffered blunt trauma to the head, torso and lower extremities when his motorcycle hit the side of Chan's car, tossing Johnson several hundred feet. Police found Johnson three houses down from the crash scene.
Chan is currently free on $5,000 cash bail after pleading innocent in Middlesex Superior Court in May to motor-vehicle homicide, operating under the influence, and recklessness in connection with the crash. Chan's next court date in Middlesex Superior Court is Sept. 19.
"There was clear evidence of neglect on the defendant's part," said Jessica Pastore, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney's Office.
Defense attorney Greg Oberhauser has said the case will be a battle of the accident reconstructionists.
Acknowledging that one of his own was driving drunk, Lowell Police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee said Johnson's death has caused a "great deal of heartache."
Lavallee called Johnson's death a "painful lesson." He said, "Anytime someone makes the decision to drink more than they should and drive, they are making a poor decision."
But Lavallee stressed that the "unfortunate circumstances" of Johnson's death does not diminish the contributions he made during his six years with the Police Department.
Lavallee said the joint investigation by Lowell and state police was thorough. "The evidence was there," he said.
When asked by The Sun for reports detailing where Johnson had been drinking and his activities before the crash, Pastore said the district attorney's office "declines to comment on the actions of the victim" prior to the accident.
Several sources have told The Sun that Johnson had been attending a function at Mount Pleasant Golf Club on Staples Street in Lowell, where alcoholic beverages were being served.
But in court documents, prosecutors provided details of Chan's drinking, which started the afternoon prior to the crash.
Chan allegedly admitted to police that he drank a 22-ounce can of beer around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on Sept. 10. Later that day, Chan said, he attended a birthday party at the bar at the Pailin Restaurant on Middlesex Street where he stayed from 9:30 p.m. until 12:15 a.m. -- about 10 minutes before the crash. He said he had a "Mandarin Sour" and when he left he felt "dizzy" and "buzzed," according to court documents. Police found a 12-pack of Heineken beer on the rear seat of his car. Court documents did not indicate whether any cans were open.
Chan told police that he came to a complete stop at the intersection of Princeton Boulevard and Foster Street and, not seeing any oncoming traffic, entered the intersection.
As he drove through the intersection, Chan told police he saw a single headlight appear to his right and shifted the car into second gear to accelerate out of the way. Instead, he caused the car to stall. Johnson's motorcycle struck the Honda and spun the vehicle around.
Lavallee said Johnson's death has impacted the department as well as Johnson's family and friends.
The deceased officer is the son of former Lowell City Clerk Richard Johnson, a position he held for 18 years. Johnson resigned earlier this month after being arrested for allegedly stealing $1,500 in cash from the office. Defense attorney Kevin Murphy, who represents the elder Johnson, declined to say if the theft of funds was related to an issue with prescription drugs, but confirmed his client's unusual behavior is linked to the death of his son.
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