Video tech aids case

By Edward Lewis

April 30, 2013

WILKES-BARRE — Just as the evening rush hour was about to begin Jan. 24, city police shut down several downtown streets while investigating the hit-and-run death of 5-year-old Kevin Miller.

The importance of the advanced technology used in that session to find the suspect became evident during Monday’s preliminary hearing for Thomas Letteer Jr. of Plains Township, the man charged with causing the boy’s death.

Luzerne County Detective Chris Lynch testified that a three-dimensional video of the streets was produced using Letteer’s 1999 Pontiac Grand Am and two other Grand Ams. The video was used by Grant Fredericks of Forensics Video Solutions in Spokane, Wash., analyzing the three Pontiacs’ headlight spread patterns, a new science in criminal investigations.

The technology-driven probe began, according to testimony, when a red Pontiac Grand Am was recorded by a King’s College surveillance camera on Jackson Street the night of Dec. 21, minutes after the boy was struck on North Street. The image with a blurred license plate was released to the media, resulting in police receiving hundreds of tips, city police Detective Charles Jensen said.

Lynch said he met Fredericks at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., about a year ago and thought he could help clear the blurry license plate with video imaging.

“It was our hope Mr. Fredericks was able to obtain a license plate number,” Lynch said. “He could not pull a license plate number, but he did a headlight spread pattern.”

Letteer’s Pontiac Grand Am and two other Pontiacs were used in the three-dimensional video that was made the night of Jan. 24. Lynch said the video had to be made under similar environmental and road conditions as on the night of the hit-and-run.

The city’s Public Works Department poured water on the streets and then rock salt trying to mimic how the streets appeared on Dec. 21.

Investigators then placed Letteer’s Pontiac and the two other test Pontiacs in the same position on the streets matching the recordings by Hawkeye and private surveillance cameras.

“It took two hours to position one vehicle,” Lynch said.

Fredericks was in the Hawkeye video control room communicating with Lynch to place the cars at specific points along North, North Main and Jackson streets and North Pennsylvania Avenue.

Fredericks was analyzing the headlights on each car, measuring the light spread pattern on the streets.

In the criminal complaint charging Letteer with accidents involving Miller’s death, Fredericks found differences in the three Pontiac headlight patterns. He formed an opinion that Letteer’s Pontiac, based on the headlight spread, was the car recorded driving away from the scene.

Kane forwarded a charge of accidents involving death against Letteer to county court. He remains free on $200,000 bail.