UPPER CHICHESTER — In a case described by the District Attorney as “devastatingly troubling,” an allegedly drunken Chester County man, who has five prior DUI convictions, tried to blame a cousin who wasn’t even in the country as being the driver in a fatal crash Saturday night.
David Matthew Strowhouer, who attended his mother’s funeral earlier Saturday and reportedly was drinking throughout the day, told investigators he and his cousin from Puerto Rico were on their way to Chester to buy cocaine when the crash occurred. Strowhouer said his cousin was driving because Strowhouer was too intoxicated, a court document states.
It didn’t take long for investigators to unravel the defendant’s account, according to the probable cause affidavit for Strowhouer’s arrest for homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and myriad related offenses.
Strowhouer, 30, of the 2400 block of Woodside Lane in the Newtown Square section of Willistown, is additionally charged with homicide by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, accidents involving death or personal injury, accident involving death or injury while not licensed, accident involving damage to an attended vehicle, reckless driving, careless driving involving both serious bodily injury and unintentional death, driving at a safe speed, DUI, driving with a suspended license pursuant to DUI, two counts of recklessly endangering another person, failure to keep right and improper pass.
He is being held without bail at the county prison.
At the time of the crash, the cousin Strowhouer purported to be driving the pickup truck that drove head-on into a Brookhaven couple’s vehicle on Market Street - killing 45-year-old Deana Eckman and injuring her husband - was in Puerto Rico where he resides, the defendant’s brother told investigators, according to the affidavit. Investigators also reviewed video a short time before the crash.
Upper Chichester police received a report of a motor vehicle crash in the 3300 block of Market Street at 9:22 p.m. Township Patrolman Allen Reeves arrived to find a 2019 Subaru WRX, inside of which were a male driver and an unresponsive female passenger. As Reeves approached the vehicle, witnesses on scene said a dark Dodge Ram pickup truck had crossed over the double yellow line and struck the Subaru head-on. Three witnesses all said that someone exited the truck and fled on foot on Market Street, heading south in the direction of Chestnut Street.
The unoccupied Dodge Ram was on the berm of the southbound lane of travel, disabled with heavy front-end damage.
As township Patrolman Matthew McCusker began to coordinate a search of the area for the driver of the Dodge Ram, a man approached him and indicated he was a passenger in the truck. That individual was later identified as Strowhouer.
“McCusker detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage about Strowhouer’s breath … McCusker formed the opinion that Strowhouer was intoxicated to the degree that he was incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle on the roadway,” states the affidavit, authored by Sgt. Jason Yaletchko of the Upper Chichester Police Department and Detective David Tyler of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division.
According to information detailed in the affidavit:
Strowhouer told police he was the front-seat passenger of the truck, and that he was wearing a seatbelt. He said he climbed across the front seat of the vehicle and exited through the driver’s side door. He indicated that his cousin was the operator of the truck. Strowhouer then told McCusker and Officer Christopher Gaspari that he was coming from a bar and restaurant in Havertown for a family gathering for his mother’s funeral that occurred earlier in the day. He said he and his cousin left the bar to go to Chester to buy cocaine. That initial conversation between Strowhouer and the officers ended when paramedics began attending to Strowhouer. Strowhouer was placed in an ambulance and taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
Meanwhile, paramedics and fire rescue were attending to the Subaru, attempting to extricate the passengers. The man, who suffered a fractured pelvis and other injuries, was removed and taken to Crozer. His wife succumbed to her injuries.
Identified by the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s office as Deana Eckman, she was pronounced dead at the scene by Paramedic Mark Barron at 9:40 p.m.
Due to the seriousness of the crash, a joint investigation was launched, involving the Upper Chichester Township Police Crash Investigation Team, and county detectives. Assisting Yaletchko were county Detective Sgt. Kenneth Bellis and county Detectives Tyler, Vincent Ficchi and Timothy Deery.
Tyler responded to Crozer to interview Strowhouer. At the time, Strowhouer was being treated for pain and injury to his left shoulder, hip and left knee.
Additional information provided by the affidavit: During the interview with Tyler, Strowhouer admitted drinking alcohol throughout the day and leaving his brother’s residence to purchase cigarettes. Strowhouer said he had recently driven to an unknown Wawa on West Chester Pike and met up with his cousin, who resides in Puerto Rico. Strowhouer said he and his cousin agreed to go to Chester City to purchase cocaine. Strowhouer said his cousin drove, because he (Strowhouer) was too intoxicated.
Strowhouer said he got into the front passenger seat and was wearing the seatbelt. He described his cousin as driving erratically, speeding and passing several vehicles while en route to Chester City. Strowhouer said as they approached the Route 452 bridge over the CSX railroad tracks, his cousin passed a vehicle at a high rate of speed and drove into the approaching lane of traffic when the crash occurred. Strowhouer said his cousin started to exit the vehicle, at which time Strowhouer held onto his cousin’s shirt, pulling Strowhouer out of the driver’s side of the vehicle.
At Crozer, Strowhouer’s blood was drawn as part of his treatment. His injuries were treated and doctors elected to hold him in the hospital due to his high level of intoxication, the affidavit states.
As part of the investigation, Deery and Ficchi went to Strowhouer’s brother’s residence. In his statement, the brother said David Strowhouer had been drinking throughout the day and was highly intoxicated while at his residence. The brother said David left the residence about 9 p.m., when he entered a black Dodge Ram pickup alone, and drove away off from the area – information corroborated by video reviewed by investigators. Detectives were told that the cousin was not at the funeral service and is believed to be in Puerto Rico.
According to the affidavit, investigators confirmed Strowhouer’s route from the brother’s residence to the crash site takes about 22 minutes, via Google Maps.
Additionally, as part of his investigation, Yaletchko inspected the Dodge Ram. He found that the passenger-side seatbelt was retracted and in a locked position, which indicated that the seatbelt was not in use at the time of the crash. Additionally, the driver-side seatbelt was extended and in a locked position indicating the driver’s side belt was in use at the time of the crash. Investigators also found an impact mark on the lower left side of the dashboard, consistent with the left knee of the driver of the vehicle striking the dashboard. Police also found a wallet containing Strowhouer’s expired Florida driver’s license and other identification in his name, and a cell phone, on the driver’s side floorboard.
According to a traffic surveillance camera at the intersection of Market Street and Meetinghouse Road, which is about 500 feet before the crash site, a black Dodge Ram is seen traveling through the intersection at a high rate of speed, traveling in the oncoming lane of travel, at 9:18 p.m.
Strowhouer’s latest arrest marked his sixth involving DUI, authorities said Tuesday. He was arrested on July 31, 2010 in West Goshen, Chester County; on July 6, 2011, in Malvern Borough, Chester County; on Aug. 17, 2014, in West Goshen; on Feb. 27, 2015, in West Goshen; and on May 10, 2017, in Marple.
“He has done jail time for every previous offense, and he’s done so with increasing severity,” Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland said Tuesday, citing public records. “Every single time, he has faced at least, if not more, the mandatory minimum … He has also done time for violation of parole and probation.”
Most recently, in 2017, he was sentenced in Delaware County to serve one to five years.
“At the minimum, he would have served one year,” noted Copeland. At the time of Saturday’s crash, Strowhouer was on state parole, as well as driving with a suspended license pursuant to a previous DUI, records show.
Under a newly enacted homicide by vehicle law, Copeland said Strowhouer is facing a seven-year mandatory prison sentence due to the fact he has two or more previous convictions. He is believed to be the first defendant to face prosecution in Delaware County under the new law, which was pushed by two York County mothers who lost their sons to DUI drivers, as well as a Chester County family who lost a son and daughter to a DUI driver.
“I find this case to be devastatingly troubling,” said Copeland. “On a day where the defendant should be with family mourning the passing of his mother, he instead brings tragedy to another family.”
Regarding his priors, she added, “Each time, he should have learned the consequences of his behavior. Clearly, he didn’t, and sadly, he caused a tragic death.”
In three out of four prior DUI cases, Strowhouer was recorded at the highest rate of alcohol at 0.16 or more, and in one instance, at the highest rate of combination of drugs and alcohol at 0.16 or more, Copeland said.
With the exception of an accident involving an unattended vehicle in Malvern, Strowhouer’s previous incidents did not involve injury or damage to others.
It was not known if Strowhouer had retained an attorney to represent him in the latest arrest.
A preliminary hearing is list for Feb. 26 in Magisterial District Judge David R. Griffin’s court.