Philadelphia Police Sgt. Jerome Moore sensed trouble when he spotted a black Jeep Cherokee traveling behind him in the northbound fast lane on Interstate 95 early New Year's Day.
Moore, a 15-year veteran who had just gotten off duty, was concerned because the Jeep was traveling at an estimated 85 mph and because its headlights were off, he said yesterday during the preliminary hearing for the man accused of causing the city's first two vehicular homicides of 2010.
The early-morning three-car pileup near Bridge Street killed a man and his girfriend.
After hearing from Moore, three state troopers and Joseph Price, 59, of Northeast Philly - who suffered a broken neck in the crash - Municipal Judge Jimmie Moore held Jesse S. Maiden, 36, for trial on all charges.
Maiden, whose last known address was a Middletown, Bucks County, drug-rehab house, is charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, and multiple related offenses.
A hefty, bearded man who remained handcuffed in court, Maiden could spend 24 1/2 to 49 years in prison if convicted on all charges, said Assistant District Attorney John Doyle, who persuaded Moore not to reduce the jailed defendant's $650,000 bail.
"I don't think he intentionally hurt anybody, but that's not the standard," Doyle said after the hearing. "He was reckless, he was driving drunk and he was impaired."
If ever there were a salient cautionary tale against drinking and driving - especially on New Year's - the 2:58 a.m. pileup could be that tale.
According to testimony, all three drivers were drunk and Maiden, who had driven a Jeep, also had crack cocaine and marijuana in his system and in his jacket pocket when arrested.
Killed were Norman Wilkerson, 45, of Southwest Philadelphia, and his girlfriend, Maria Cox, 47, of Holmesburg.
They were headed to Cox's home when the small Ford Contour Wilkerson was driving struck the rear bumper of Price's Dodge Caravan, which was parked on the left shoulder with a blown tire.
About 15 minutes later, Maiden's Jeep rammed the Ford, which crashed into the Dodge, propelling it across three lanes and onto the highway's right shoulder.
Moments before the crash, Sgt. Moore had spotted the Ford and Dodge and moved to the middle lane to avoid hitting them, and then moved to the right lane to give the Jeep space.
"I braced for an impact because I didn't think the [Jeep] was changing lanes. Then I heard an impact and I saw debris," Moore said.
State Trooper Charles N. Burckhardt Jr. said that Maiden told him that in the hours before the crash he had smoked marijuana and about $70 worth of crack cocaine while partying in Delaware County with friends, including Kristen Paris, 22, his passenger, who was arrested on outstanding prostitution charges.
The trooper said Maiden also had spoken of the two people who died: " 'I really didn't kill them. I don't want that on me - especially if they got family and kids and sh--. I don't want that on my soul.' "