The odds of finding the person who hit Michael Brady in the predawn hours of March 27, 2012 did not look good.
When Philadelphia Police Officer Mark Eib arrived, around 65 minutes after the 2 a.m. hit-and-run in the 2300 block of East Cumberland Street in Kensington, the accident investigation officer’s clues were a pool of blood and a windshield wiper and its controller arm.
The victim, a 29-year-old off-duty police officer walking home after drinking with friends in a nearby tavern, had a concussion and remembered nothing. A neighborhood resident, who heard the thud of a crash and went down to help Brady, did not see the car that drove off.
There’s no question that forensic science is important in modern detective work. Still, sometimes the only tool an investigator has is “shoe leather.” Windshield wiper in hand, Eib began visiting different automobile dealerships to see if they could tell him anything. The hunch paid off. One car dealer looked at a serial number on the controller arm and told Eib it came from a Ford Taurus or a Lincoln MKS.
Eib spotted a security camera outside a rowhouse a block away from the accident. The video did not show the accident but it did show a dark-colored sedan stop at Cedar and Cumberland Streets. The video showed someone get out of the sedan, walk to the car’s front and look at it. The person then gets back into the sedan and it drives off.
Police provided a copy of the video and a description of the vehicle to news media and waited. Nothing.
Then, on April 1, 2013, Eib got a note from the Citizens Crime Commission of Philadelphia. An anonymous tipster provided a cellphone number that purportedly belonged to the owner of a Lincoln MKS. The number was to a Google cellphone served by AT&T. Eib obtained a search warrant to get AT&T to divulge the name of the cellphone subscriber. On May 29, Eib learned the phone belonged to a man in Mount Laurel in South Jersey.
On June 21, Eib went to the Mount Laurel address and saw a parked Lincoln MKS. The windshield wiper assembly was missing from the passenger side. Eib called Mount Laurel Township Police and he and a local officer knocked on the door. The owner immediately called a cellphone number and Nicole Palma, 28, of Marlton, came to the address and gave a statement to police.
Eib’s described his investigation at Palma’s preliminary hearing in Philadelphia Municipal Court on Jan. 30 where he was the main witness presented by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Leonardis.
Judge Dawn A. Segal ordered Palma to be tried on leaving an accident, simple assault and reckless endangerment. But Segal dismissed the most serious charge — aggravated assault — after defense attorney Perry de Marco Sr. argued that Palma did not have the criminal intent to justify the count.
Palma’s statement to police said she panicked after striking Brady as he walked home around 2 a.m. March 27 in the 2300 block of East Cumberland Street. Palma told police an apparently drunk man jumped on the hood of the Lincoln MKS sedan she was driving. Palma said she saw the man had a gun, backed up and hit the brakes, throwing the man from the car. She then drove off.
Brady testified that he was in plain clothes and was not carrying a gun.