Our prisons are full of young men who’ve done dumb things. It’s looking like Tony Forest will not be one of them.
I’m not sure exactly why that is. But let’s say I have questions.
On the morning of Jan. 31, Forest, 26, did a dumb thing. He and a friend, Adam Soto, 24, while driving separate cars, were involved in some kind of speed contest after leaving a Northeast Philly gym where they’d worked out together.
At the time, they were off-duty Philly cops.
Soto was gunning his Subaru over 80 mph when he blew a light at Cottman and Algon Avenues – a school zone, for God’s sake – slamming into and killing pedestrian Danny Dimitri, 50.
Soto was charged in May with homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Dimitri, a beloved chef at Chuck’s Alibi on Oxford Avenue. Forest, who was driving a Mercedes, was given a pass.
Which is weird.
In many other speed-related contests that led to death, both drivers were charged, even if only one of them killed a victim.
Case in point: On July 29, 2015, Christopher Bloomfield and Ryan Farrell, both 21, were speeding on Sandmeyer Lane, a notorious drag-racing strip in Northeast Philly. Rounding a curve, Bloomfield’s vehicle jumped the curb at high speed and hit a tree, killing three of his young passengers and critically injuring a fourth.
Both Bloomfield and Farrell were charged with homicide by vehicle and other offenses. Bloomfield, who pleaded guilty Thursday, was sentenced to 11 to 25 years. Farrell, who is out on bail, appears headed to trial.
So what’s the deal with Forest?
Philly district attorney spokesman Cameron Kline says that an extensive investigation and a review of the evidence, including video, “clearly indicated” that the district attorney had insufficient evidence to charge Forest.
Until my call Monday to ask about Forest, though, the guy hadn’t been given so much as a traffic ticket related to the incident.
By Wednesday, that changed when Forest was cited for speeding – five months after the fact.
Kline emphasized, twice, that Forest is not contesting the citations even though “among other factors, he slowed down almost two blocks before Officer Soto … hit Danny Dimitri.”
But “slowing down” doesn’t always make a difference in speed-related charges.
It didn’t for Ahmen Holloman, who is in prison for his part in the horrific drag-racing deaths of Samira Banks, 27, and three of her four small children on July 16, 2013.
Holloman was racing Khusen Akhmedov on Roosevelt Boulevard when Akhmedov hit Banks and her kids with his Audi as they crossed the highway. The impact sent Banks’ body flying 120 feet.
It was a horror. Her babies were just 5, 4, and 2.
Holloman’s attorney, Lonny Fish, argued that his client should not be charged because he had significantly slowed his Honda prior to the accident – so much so that he was easily able to stop when he came upon the accident scene.
“There were no skid marks from his car at all,” says Fish.
No matter. Holloman is doing five to 10 years for vehicular homicide; Akhmedov, 17 to 34 for four counts of third-degree murder.
I think they both got what they deserved, by the way, as did Christopher Bloomfield. Hopefully, Ryan Farrell will do lengthy time, too, for his part in the Sandmeyer Lane crash.
They were all young and dumb when they did what they did. That might be a reason for their actions but it’s no excuse.
Which brings us to Forest and Soto, trained police officers who should’ve known the dangers of risky road behavior.
Even though Forest wasn’t criminally charged, Police Commissioner Richard Ross fired him.
“Clearly, from our standpoint the conduct was egregious,” says Ross. “We’re supposed to be the people stopping folks from speeding and not engaging in those acts ourselves.”
Asked whether Forest should’ve been charged, Ross says, “I don’t know the extent of the investigation, but I think that’s a very legitimate question to ask.”
Danny Dimitri’s sister, Cherylann Prosinski, thinks so, too. She wants both Soto and Forest in prison for what happened to her brother, who was single and her only sibling. His death, which occurred while he was on his way to work to pick up his paycheck, has blasted a hole into her family.
“My mom, she’s 89, she can’t stop crying,” says Prosinski, 58, whose two daughters are also deeply grieving their adored uncle. “Danny called her a billion times a day. We couldn’t even do Easter this year. We missed him too much.”
Like I said, young men do dumb things. It’s far from clear to me whether Forest got special treatment for doing a dumb thing.
But if he didn’t receive a traffic citation until the week a reporter called to ask about charges, well, like I said, I’ve got questions. And to paraphrase the commissioner, I think they’re legitimate to ask.