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Defendant in Bender Case Arraigned, Remanded to Jail
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2018-09-27

Updated Sept. 27, 2018

 

            Steven Bernard Rokita and his lawyer lingered behind a large shrub near the Red Hill district court prior to a preliminary arraignment Thursday morning. Rokita, the man accused of causing the July 23 vehicle crash in Upper Hanover that killed Bill

Steven Rokita is led away by State Police after his arraign-

ment last Thursday.

Bender and fleeing the scene in a red Ford Fusion, left the court wearing handcuffs in the custody of two uniformed state troopers.

            "I'm glad he is going to jail," said Bender's widow Megan.

            Judge Maureen Coggins set bail in the case against Rokita, 50, of Pike Township, at $100,000 monetary, an amount she described as jointly recommended by the prosecution and defense attorney Matthew Louis Razzano. However, she said the defendant could not be released until Berks County removes a parole detainer against him from a previous conviction even if he posts the required amount.

            Coggins read aloud the charges against Rokita, who was wearing a gray collared shirt, light blue cargo shorts and sneakers, during the 22-minute hearing.  He faces second and third-degree felony counts of accidents involving death or personal injury and accident where the victim dies, one misdemeanor for drug paraphernalia and seven summary offenses that include attempting to pass on the right, following too closely, failure to drive at a safe speed, careless driving, failure to stop and provide his information or render aid, failure to notify police and giving false information to authorities, according to a police criminal complaint filed at the Red Hill court of District Judge Coggins.

            Rokita could face a maximum sentence of five to ten years in prison if convicted of the second-degree felony and three-and-a-half to seven years on the third-degree felony, according to the judge.

            Frank Camp, Megan Bender's father, expressed disappointment with the sentencing guidelines. Camp described his son-in-law as a "very good husband and father who loved his children."

            In the lobby, Trooper Brad Furlong, listed in court records as the arresting officer, fielded questions about the case from several family members and friends of the Benders who attended the hearing. Furlong informed them that a preliminary hearing, initially scheduled for Sept. 25 would be delayed so the prosecution could coordinate its case among multiple investigators.  The hearing is currently rescheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

            The state police and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office filed charges in the case on Sept. 18.  Bill Bender, the father of four and known as a talented mechanic, died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash, which occurred at 4:24 p.m. on Route 663 just north of Tollgate Road, according to the police criminal complaint filed in Coggins' court.

            He was driving south on Route 663 towards Pennsburg when his 2004 black Honda Civic was hit from behind by an unknown vehicle immediately before Northgate Boulevard and pushed into the opposing lane of traffic, causing it to be struck on the passenger side by a 2003 gold Buick LeSabre driven by Edward Kabakjian, 84, of Pennsburg. Kabakjian was transported from the scene with "moderate injuries."

            A witness told authorities he saw a rear-end crash involving two vehicles in front of him. He observed debris flying in the air around the sides of the striking vehicle, an orange brown or red vehicle. At the scene, investigators discovered red paint on the rear bumper of the Civic, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

            After speaking with multiple witnesses, utilizing vehicle debris discovered at the scene of the crime, examining surveillance video from one business in Milford Township and three in Pennsburg Borough and conferring with an employee of Fred Beans Ford,  law enforcement officials determined that a Fusion with five-spoke wheels chrome trim and tinted windows was involved in the crash.

            One of the cameras shows the Fusion turning right onto Main Street from 663 in the borough after the collision. Video obtained from a pizza parlor on John Fries Highway in Milford Township from July 26 displays the same vehicle with observable damage on the front and driver's side bumper as well as in the area of the fog lamp consistent with the damage on the fleeing vehicle according to the legal document.

            The following day, Trooper James Sparagana viewed the damaged vehicle at Rokita's home on Landis Store Road.  Sparagana executed a search warrant on the property at 8:45 p.m. and discovered the car parked next to a garage with observable damage on the front, driver's side bumper and in the area of the fog lamp, the document states.

            At 11 p.m., the officer seized surveillance equipment and electronic devices on the property. During an interview, Rokita, who was pulled over for speeding July 20 on Gravel Pike at Tollgate Road, told authorities he witnessed the crash involving the Civic and the LeSabre but did not report it to the police. He falsely claimed that the damage to his Fusion occurred several weeks prior in the parking lot of a business, according to the paperwork.

            Furlong claimed the investigation moved much faster than others he has worked on. He said the DA's office has been involved from the beginning, approving all the charges suggested by the state police and providing additional recommendations.

            Rokita has had several recent brushes with the law. In May of 2017, he pleaded guilty to DUI and reckless endangerment in Berks County Common Pleas Court from an incident in Pike Township 11 months earlier. Judge Eleni Dimitriou Geishauser sentenced him to six months to five years in jail. He was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and was immediately entered into the work release program, according to information posted on a state judicial website.

            In March of 2017, Rokita pleaded guilty to a charge of retail theft in Douglass Township from October of 2016 and was sentenced to three years of probation in the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court by Judge Gail Weilheimer, according to information posted on the judicial site. His supervision was transferred to Berks County on Feb. 28.


 

 

 

 

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