BERNVILLE, Pa. – Police are calling the death of 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker an accident after state police say they accidentally ran him over with a bulldozer Monday, July 9, according to The Allentown Morning Call.
A Pennsylvania State Game Lands employee was patrolling the fields near South Garfield Road when he noticed a vehicle parked off the street. The employee became suspicious and notified the authorities. Police later found 10 marijuana plants hidden in the fields. According to a statement by Pennsylvania State Trooper David Beohm, police arrived on the scene and found pruning shears, fertilizer, starter plants and marijuana leaves in addition to a fenced area containing 10 marijuana plants. Police said that they then observed two men rise from the brush and attempt to run away from the scene.
Police said they were able to catch David B. Light, 54, after he fled on foot but could not catch the second man, later identified as Longenecker, who had run back into the thick underbrush. State troopers brought in a helicopter and Game Commission employees, some driving bulldozers, to pursue the individual.
Grower Run Over By Bulldozer
“The helicopter came up here, they saw the guy that ran, and they had eyes on him as he was running through this thick, thick underbrush,” reported Beohm.
The manhunt lasted more than two hours.
Beohm said the bulldozer was cutting down a trail through the thick brush searching for the man when the trooper told the operator to stop. He says the trooper looked behind the bulldozer and saw the crushed body laying on the ground where the bulldozer had just gone over.
The preliminary autopsy performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Neil A. Hoffman, on Tuesday found that Longenecker died from trauma as a result from being run over by a bulldozer. The Berks County Coroner said that the autopsy results will be finalized once the pending the toxicology report is completed.
Beohm claimed the police were not responsible for the man's death because they were not in pursuit.
“They were just trying to locate this guy with the use of a helicopter,” he said. The Pennsylvania State Police were assisted in the non-pursuit by the Mount Pleasant Fire Department, the Bernville Fire Department, and Lower Heidelberg Township police, and the Bernville police.
Light's wife, Beverly said that her husband and Longenecker were close friends and that Light had only gone to give Longenecker a ride home, however, police say that Light admitted to being on the scene to prune marijuana flowers.
“They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants,” said Trooper Boehm. It is unclear if the admission was made before or after Light learned that the bulldozer crushed Longenecker to death.
Erik Altieri is the Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and believes that the preventable tragedy was a result of the criminalizing of a plant.
"This tragedy is a direct result of our nation's draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana," said Altieri. "Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."
Light was released on a $25,000 bail. He is a scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on July 18.