A man was crushed to death by a bulldozer driven by authorities after they discovered he was growing cannabis plants.
Gregory Longenecker, 51, was found dead under the bulldozer’s treads with ‘virtually all the bones from his pelvis to his collarbone either crushed, broken or lacerated’ in July 2018 at a wooded field in Bernville, Pennsylvania.
On Monday, Longenecker’s family filed a federal lawsuit that claims a state trooper and game commission employee behaved recklessly by chasing Longenecker in the heavy machinery.
Police responded to the field after a game commissioner found Longenecker’s car, which was parked in an area that was off-limits for motor vehicles. Officers arrived a short time later and found ten mature marijuana plants with watering bottles, trimming shears, liquid fertilizer, and other paraphernalia used to grow the plants, according to the Washington Post.
At that time, Longenecker was at the grow sight with a friend, David Light, 54. When confronted by police, Light was immediately arrested, but Longenecker disappeared into thick brush that was overgrown in the area. Police said that they believed he had used pruning shears to cut an escape route.
‘I’ve never seen underbrush that this. It was crazy how thick it was,’ Pennsylvania State Trooper David Beohm told Lehigh Valley Live.
For hours, authorities searched for Longenecker using a helicopter to track his movements, but they lost sight of him. A trooper and the game commissioner hopped on the bulldozer and began forging a path through the dense bushes.
According to an investigation by the Berks County District Attorney’s Office, Longenecker had intentionally crawled under the bulldozer to hide when it came to a 30-second stop. When the vehicle started moving again, Longenecker became stuck under the treads and was crushed.
The official cause of death was ruled to be acute compression of the chest, meaning he was killed under the weight of the bulldozer.
Longnecker’s death sparked outrage among family members and friends, who held a rally to protest his death. His family’s lawsuit highlights the fact that, although recreational marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania, it is decriminalized and, if arrested and prosecuted, Longenecker would have likely been sentenced to probation.
‘The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn’t simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend’s name is. How difficult is that?’ said Patrick Nightingale, the executive director of Pittsburgh’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Ultimately, the local district attorney’s office held that the death was accidental and also found that he was under the influence of methadone, marijuana, and an amphetamine.
‘The levels of methadone and methamphetamine are in the toxic level. The decedent’s judgement, perception and coordination would have been considerably impaired at the time of his death due to this intoxication,’ Dr. Neil Hoffman, who performed the autopsy, said.
Longenecker’s family is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit, which names Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the trooper as defendants.