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Rokita Pleads Guilty in Bender Death
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2019-07-31

            A Pike Township man accepted responsibility Monday for the death of an East Greenville man. Steven Bernard Rokita, 51, pleaded guilty to two felony charges for his role in the vehicle collision that killed Bill Bender last summer. Rokita received a sentence of between six and 15 years in prison, according to Kathleen Alane McLaughlin, the prosecuting attorney.

            "It will never be enough, but I'm happy with what he got," said Bender's widow Megan.

            During a 40-minute hearing before Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Risa Ferman, Rotika entered a negotiated guilty plea on two felony counts for accidents involving death or personal injury from a three-vehicle collision on Route 663 in Upper Hanover.

            Rotika expressed remorse during a brief extemporaneous statement, according to two people in the court. He hoped he could be forgiven someday, according to McLaughlin. According to Megan Bender, the defendant stated that he wished he could undo the incident.

            "In a way, that made me feel a little better," she said. "I believe he now knows what he did."

            Rotika appeared to break down during a statement read by Bill Bender's daughter Brielle on behalf of the family.  Donna Bender, the victim's mother, also spoke during the hearing, according to Megan Bender.

            Conviction on the third degree felony – for leaving the scene of the accident – carries a sentence of 1 ½ to five years behind bars, according to information posted on a state judicial website. It states that the second degree felony conviction includes a sentence of 4 ½ to 10 years. The confinement will be served consecutively, which means that Rokita – who has been in jail since Sept, 20, 2018 – will serve the second degree felony charge first, according to Matthew Louis Razzano, a Philadelphia defense attorney. 

            According to McLaughlin, the sentence is well within the state guidelines. She said it fits the severity of the crime.

            The prosecutor lauded the state police for the investigation into the incident. She said the agency did a great job gathering the necessary evidence. According to Razzano, the state had a very strong case.

            "It made my job as a negotiator very easy," McLaughlin said.

            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 July 23, 2018 on Route 663 just east of Northgate Boulevard . He was driving west 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 Buick LeSabre driven by Edward Kabakjian, 84, of Pennsburg. Kabakjian was transported from the scene with moderate injuries, according to the police criminal complaint filed in the Red Hill court of District Judge Maureen Coggins.

            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.

            The state police and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office filed charges in the case against Rokita on Sept. 18 that included the two felony charges, 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 They alleged that the red Ford Fusion he was driving rear ended Bill Bender's vehicle, then fled the scene.

            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.

            On the day of the crash, one of the cameras shows the Fusion turning right onto Main Street from 663 in the borough after the collision. Rokita continued to drive the car days after the incident, according to law enforcement officials. 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. on July 27, 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.

            According to Megan Bender, her family continues to struggle with the emotional issues related to the incident. She said at least one of the children cries every day.

            "I wouldn't say things have gotten better," she said. "This is the way we live. There are still some very, very hard days and some days that are not so hard."


 

 

 

 

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