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Motorist Who Fled After Fatally Hitting Teen Sent to State Prison

August 28, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: William R. Murphy, 215.348.6334, wrmurphy@buckscounty.org

James Howell
      James R. Howell

An unlicensed driver who fled after fatally striking a 19-year-old pedestrian in Feasterville last November was sentenced Tuesday to serve 21 to 42 months in state prison.

James R. Howell, 49, of Philadelphia, was not charged for the collision that killed Jessica Kurtz, who was crossing Street Road with a friend in the darkness when struck. He was charged with leaving the scene before police or rescue squads arrived.

“We’re not here because you are to blame for the accident,” said Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr., who imposed the sentence. “We’re here because you left her there.”

Assistant District Attorney William R. Murphy told Bateman that, had Howell not fled, he might have faced only a summary citation for driving with a suspended license. Instead, Murphy said, Howell hid in Philadelphia for two weeks without turning himself in.

“I think that what was glossed over here was … he was on the run for two weeks” while Kurtz’s family grieved and police searched for him, Murphy said. “He knew we were looking for him, and he actively hid.”

On Nov. 27, 2017, Kurtz and 18-year-old William Vanarsdale were crossing in the 700 block of Street Road when a Ford pickup truck driven by Howell hit them shortly after 8 p.m.

Howell stopped his pickup truck and helped Vanarsdale, who was not seriously injured, carry Kurtz to the side of the road. He offered to drive her to the hospital and, when Vanarsdale refused to let him, waited until a man who said he was a paramedic stopped to help.

But Howell drove off before police or rescue squads arrived, saying he became frightened.

“Some fear had came over me and I got real scared,” he told Bateman. “My intention was not to leave at all.”

Howell apologized to Kurtz’s mother and several friends who attended the sentencing. He said he did not have a license because he struggles to read, and was not able to pass the written license examination.

“I pray for Jessica every day. I pray for the family, because I know how you feel,” he said, saying he was the father of five children. “I’m just asking that, after today, you just continue to forgive me in your heart.”

Howell sobbed when Karen Kurtz spoke in court, saying her daughter would want her to forgive him.

“Despite his revoked license, James Howell chose to drive a vehicle which was not registered or insured in his name,” she said. “I chose to empathize because I have experienced the hardships of caring for one’s family when transportation is an issue, and because Jessica would have wanted me to.

“Mr. Howell, after helping to move Jessica off the highway, chose to flee the scene, leaving Jessica on the gravel-strewn shoulder, uncaring of the severity of her injuries. Even so, for our Jessica’s sake, I put aside my pain and justifiable anger and chose kindness, forgiving James Howell for his actions even as I struggled to understand how anyone could be so heartless.”

Also read in court was part of a graduation essay Jessica had written about herself five months before her death.

“I would hope that those who have met me hear compassion, empathy and kindness when they hear my name dropped in conversation,” Jessica wrote. “Even if they’ve only met me once, I want that impression to last.”

Her mother asked Bateman to impose a sentence “commensurate with the crime.”

In addition to the prison time, Bateman imposed a concurrent 60 months of probation and ordered Howell to pay $4,313 in restitution.

The case was investigated by the Lower Southampton Township Police Department.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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