Two tollbooth collectors who work 230 miles apart, in Rochester and Albany, told jurors in the murder trial of Christopher Porco that they recall seeing a yellow Jeep Wrangler with a young white male driving the night Peter and Joan Porco were attacked.
John Fallon worked as a toll collector at Exit 46 in Henrietta on Nov. 14, 2004, covering the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. Fallon saw more than 3,000 vehicles pass through his toll that day but there was something about a yellow Jeep that registered in his memory.
`I remember a yellow Jeep that came through at 10:45 p.m. right before quitting time,` said Fallon on Monday, July 10. Fallon testified that his son and wife both own Jeeps and Jeeps are vehicles he pays close attention to.
`As the vehicle got closer, I took notice of it because I thought it would be a good vehicle for my son,` said Fallon.
`Did you see who was driving that vehicle?` asked Assistant District Attorney for Albany County and Chief Prosecutor Michael McDermott.
`It was a white male in his early- to mid-20s with a baseball cap on,` said Fallon.
Authorities believe Peter and Joan Porco were attacked inside their Brockley Drive home in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2004, by their son Christopher Porco with an ax. Christopher Porco is on trial for the murder of his father and attempted murder of his mother.
A police officer from Bethlehem’s police department met with Fallon later that month to ask if he remembered the yellow Jeep.
`Did anybody show you a photo of a human being to look at?` asked Defense Attorney Terence Kindlon.
`No sir,` answered Fallon.
`Nobody showed you a picture of a young white man in his early 20s?` Kindlon asked again.
`That’s correct,` Fallon said.
`When the Bethlehem police officer asked me to identify a vehicle that day, I laughed at him,` said Fallon, believing he could never remember one vehicle in 3,000 that pass through his toll booth on a given day. `When he showed me a picture of a yellow Jeep Wrangler, I said I recognize that.`
Kindlon asked Fallon if he remembered other Jeeps that passed through his tollbooth on Nov. 12 or Nov. 14, and Fallon did not.
`All I remember about the Jeep (on Nov. 14, 2004) is that it was a yellow Jeep Wrangler with big tires on it,` said Fallon.
Karen Russell, a 25-year veteran toll collector working the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift at Exit 24 in Albany remembers not only the yellow Jeep but something else about the driver.
`I remember a yellow Jeep that came barreling down my lane with a young man driving with brown hair,` said Russell. `The speed he was coming into my lane was excessive.` Russell pinpointed the time to be right before her 2 a.m. break that morning on Nov. 15.
Kindlon said Russell told police the yellow Jeep was the last vehicle she saw before her 2 a.m. break; however, a check of all toll tickets collected that night indicate Russell handed out 24 other toll tickets before her break.
`You can confirm it is just not true that a yellow Jeep Wrangler was the last vehicle before your break,` Kindlon said.
`I remember seeing a yellow Jeep because of the speed it entered, but I am inaccurate in saying it was my last vehicle like I told Det. (Anthony) Arduini,` Russell stated. Arduini was a Bethlehem police officer who recently died.
Earlier in the day, Thruway Authority Toll Supervisor James Buono and Thruway Authority Senior Accountant Craig W. Slezak were asked about the process of handling and separating the specific number of toll tickets that match the time frame of Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, 2004 when all vehicles on the Thruway that night left Rochester to go to Albany and back. Both men said they were in the same room together wearing latex gloves when they sifted through the hundreds of tickets to find a total of 12 tickets that traveled from Exit 46 to Exit 24 and back between midnight and 3 a.m. and between 5 and 10 a.m.
`Once we found the tickets that met the criteria of the subpoena, we put those tickets in individual white envelopes and called someone in our legal department to give them to,` said Buono.
Slezak also told the jury that only E-Z Pass toll lanes have cameras, and the only time the camera takes a photo is when a vehicle goes through an E-Z Pass lane that does not register.
Assistant District Attorney David Rossi said the toll ticket they believe Christopher Porco used to drive his yellow Jeep Wrangler from his University of Rochester dorm early Monday morning Nov. 15, 2004 registered in toll collector Karen Russell’s Thruway toll lane at 1:51 a.m. at Exit 24 in Albany. They believe Porco arrived back in Rochester at 8:18 a.m. that same morning, about four to six hours after authorities believe the crimes occurred.
Peter Porco was found dead at the bottom of the inside stairs of his Brockley Drive home around 11:30 that morning by Third Appellate Division Court Officer Michael Hart. His wife, Joan Porco, was in the upstairs master bedroom with critical injuries to her skull and face from the ax attack.
The murder trial of Christopher Porco has been adjourned until Monday, July 17, due to the death of Laurie Shanks’ mother on July 10, while Shanks was in court.