ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CN) – A federal lawsuit filed Monday claims Pennsylvania police officers are responsible for a state worker crushing and killing a short-order cook with a bulldozer after they caught him growing marijuana on public property.
According to the complaint brought by Greg Longenecker’s family in Allentown federal court, Pennsylvania State Police were using a helicopter along with the bulldozer, driven by a Pennsylvania Game Commission worker, to pursue the 51-year-old Reading resident last July when he ended up underneath the heavy machine.
Although his death has since been ruled an accident by the Berks County district attorney, Longenecker’s family claims police acted recklessly in ordering a state worker with no experience in law enforcement to chase Longenecker with a piece of machinery that has “similar force and characteristics of a military tank.”
“Virtually all of Mr. Longenecker’s bones and organs were crushed, broken, and/or lacerated from his pelvis to his collarbone,” the complaint states, adding that the bulldozer was moving at just 1 mph.
When apologizing to Longenecker’s uncle Mike Carpenter, who is named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, a sergeant with the police force allegedly stated they never should have used the bulldozer to pursue him and should have opted to follow up later with Longenecker at his house. Carpenter is represented by Philadelphia attorney Jordan Strokovsky.
State police did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.
Longenecker’s family says that a more reasonable approach by state police would have been to obtain a warrant to search Longenecker’s house and arrest him later, since they had found his information after running his license plate.
“They killed a beautiful human being, a caring, loving man,” Carpenter said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For no reason. He wasn’t hurting anyone.”
The incident arose after the Game Commission worker, who was operating a bulldozer in the area, made a call to police about a car parked in a field where vehicles weren’t allowed.
Shortly after, police found Longenecker and his friend David Light tending to 10 marijuana plants in a small clearing on state game lands. While Light surrendered, Longenecker, who had no previous offenses, fled into the surrounding thick brush.
Authorities say Longenecker was high on methamphetamine and crawled under the back of the bulldozer while it had stopped, trying to avoid capture, and was crushed to death when the vehicle turned on. But his family disputes that explanation.
“There is no way Mr. Longenecker crawled underneath the back of the bulldozer and any conclusions made to that effect are flat out wrong,” the complaint states, accusing state officials of fraudulently changing their story since there is no mention of the vehicle stopping and starting again in initial accounts.
An affidavit signed by Light states that Longenecker was not under the influence that day, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also accuses the Game Commission of destroying evidence, alleging it has since cleared the vegetation where Longenecker was killed despite Carpenter’s attorney’s request to preserve the evidence “in anticipation of litigation.”
Carpenter’s wrongful death lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.