POTTSTOWN — A Pottstown man must answer to charges in Montgomery County Court that he was speeding and driving under the influence of fentanyl and traces of marijuana and without a valid license when he caused an Aug. 3 multi-vehicle crash in the borough that claimed the life of a 35-year-old Lower Pottsgrove woman.
Symere Keith Butler, 30, of the 600 block of Chestnut Street, waived his preliminary hearing before District Court Judge Edward C. Kropp Sr. on charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of controlled substances, homicide by vehicle, accidents involving death while not properly licensed, DUI, driving while suspended, speeding, and careless and reckless driving in connection with the 10:15 p.m. Aug. 3 crash that claimed the life of Nicole “Nikki” Alyse Benzenhafer.
Butler now faces a formal arraignment hearing on the charges in county court on Nov. 3. After his arraignment hearing, a judge will set a trial date.
Butler remains in the county jail in lieu of $250,000 cash bail while awaiting trial.
With the charges, detectives alleged Butler operated his vehicle “with extreme recklessness and carelessness at a speed well in excess of the posted speed limit and while impaired by controlled substances.”
“The actions of Symere Keith Butler resulted in the death of Nicole Benzenhafer,” Pottstown Detective Adrian Stead wrote in the criminal complaint.
The investigation began about 10:16 p.m. on Aug. 3 when a borough police officer on routine patrol, eastbound in the 900 block of High Street, observed a Chevrolet Impala traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed and pass the officer’s vehicle in a no passing zone, according to court papers.
The officer activated overhead emergency lights in an attempt to stop the Impala, which made a right hand turn into the parking lot of Jack Cassidy’s Irish Pub, according to court papers. Upon entering the parking lot, the officer observed the Impala exit the rear of the parking lot and travel southbound on Keim Street.
Court papers indicate the officer turned off the overhead emergency lights and also proceeded southbound on Keim Street.
A short time later, at 10:18 p.m., a pedestrian flagged down the officer on Queen Street and advised that a crash had just occurred a few blocks west of their location, according to the criminal complaint filed by Stead.
The officer subsequently came upon a crash at Queen and Madison streets that involved a Chevrolet Impala operated by Butler, a Chevrolet Equinox operated by Benzenhafer and a parked Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. The officer recognized the Impala as the same vehicle that had passed the police vehicle on High Street several minutes earlier.
Benzenhafer had to be extricated from the Equinox and was transported to Reading Hospital Tower Health, where she was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m. A subsequent autopsy determined Benzenhafer died of blunt force trauma as a result of the crash.
Butler crawled out of his vehicle via the passenger side door and allegedly “became combative with emergency responders, pulling the hair of one of the female medical responders,” Stead alleged. Butler was transported to the Reading hospital, where he was treated and later released, court papers indicate.
The Tacoma was legally parked and unoccupied at the time of the crash.
The crash investigation and reconstruction by Pottstown police and county detectives determined that the Impala operated by Butler had been proceeding westbound on Queen Street approaching the intersection with Madison Street, traveling between 71 and 73 mph in a 25 mph zone, when due to the excessive speed, the Impala went airborne at the intersection.
“As the Butler vehicle entered the intersection due to the amount of speed the vehicle went airborne and landed on the opposite side of the intersection. The Butler vehicle was proceeding westbound in the eastbound lane of travel in the 700 block of Queen Street,” Stead alleged.
The Butler vehicle then struck the Equinox operated by Benzenhafer who had been proceeding east in the eastbound lane of Queen Street.
“The front of the Butler vehicle made violent head-on impact with the Benzenhafer vehicle,” Stead alleged in the criminal complaint.
The impact forced the Equinox to travel 108 feet before coming to rest facing eastbound in the westbound lane, detectives said. The Butler vehicle then struck the parked Tacoma pick-up truck before coming to rest.
Several witnesses subsequently told police they had observed the Impala traveling at high rates of speed along both High and Queen streets and traveling through stop signs shortly before the crash, according to court papers.
Detectives determined there were no mechanical problems with Butler’s vehicle that could have contributed to the crash and authorities alleged the Impala displayed an expired state inspection. The investigation also determined Butler did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the crash, his driving privileges allegedly having been suspended since April 2016.
Officers who responded to the scene of the crash “detected an odor of marijuana emanating from the Butler vehicle and also from Butler,” according to the arrest affidavit.
During an interview by detectives, Butler allegedly stated that he had been having difficulty sleeping “and obtained some type of pill from a relative,” according to court papers. Butler allegedly told detectives he took the pill and recalled driving his vehicle.
“Symere Keith Butler provided law enforcement with a statement and admitted to using an unknown controlled substance prior to the vehicle crash,” Stead alleged.
Toxicology tests determined Butler’s blood contained fentanyl and metabolites of marijuana, according to the arrest affidavit.
“After completing the crash investigation, the crash investigators determined that the causation of this crash was directly related to the combination of the level of impairment of Symere Keith Butler as well as the speed and manner of operation in which Symere Keith Butler was operating his vehicle,” Stead alleged in the criminal complaint.
“The nature of this crash and forces exchanged within the crash support the findings that Symere Keith Butler was operating his vehicle at an excessive speed while failing to stop for a posted stop sign and while not properly licensed to operate a vehicle and while under the influence of controlled substances,” Stead added.
A conviction of a charge of homicide by vehicle while DUI can carry a mandatory sentence of three years in prison.
Source: Berkshire mont