October 3, 2013: 48 year old Tracy Alston and Charelle Harper have been charged with Attempted Theft by Deception and Insurance Fraud by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit (IFU) began to investigate defendants Tracy Alston and Charelle Harper after receiving referrals from SEPTA regarding allegedly fraudulent personal injury claims. On February 28, 2011, the SEPTA Route 65 bus was traveling south on City Line Avenue when a sedan brushed against the side of the bus. The operator noticed the vehicle was closely approaching the bus and so she stopped the bus and sounded the horn. The sedan still made contact with the bus and brushed the left front bumper. The vehicle did not stop, however, but continued to drive south bound toward Conshohocken Avenue. The operator noted that none of the thirty passengers claimed to be injured or disturbed. Upon checking the exterior of the bus for damages, the operator only found some insignificant scratches on the front left side bumper. The operator indicated that she felt no movement as a result of the contact and after notifying SEPTA authorities of the incident, she continued her route without any further disruptions.
Despite the initial lack of injury reports, defendants Tracy Alston and Charelle Harper both retained counsel to represent them in personal injury claims resulting from this incident. Detectives reviewed incident cards filled out by both Alston and Harper. Alston’s card indicated he had been a passenger on the Route 65 bus when a green Maxima banged into the side of the bus, causing him to sustain injuries to his neck, arm and shoulder. Harper’s incident card stated that the bus was struck on the driver’s side and was consequently bumped over. Harper also alleged that the incident caused the driver to slam on the brakes. Both attorneys retained by the two defendants submitted medical bills for their clients.
Alston sought treatment at Presbyterian Hospital and continued to seek therapy on more than seventy occasions between March and August of 2011. Detectives reviewed Alston’s medical records which alleged that he was thrown as a result of the impact, struck his shoulder and then fell. During the course of his treatment, Alston visited the emergency room, received physical therapy, underwent an MRI, had steroid injections and other procedures all of which totaled more than twenty thousand dollars. Alston’s counsel then sought an additional fifty thousand for alleged pain and suffering. SEPTA denied payment of all of these claims, including medical bills.
Harper sought treatment at Mercy Hospital and then continued treatment with a physical therapist on more than forty-four occasions between March of 2011 and January of 2012. Detectives obtained Harper’s medical records which listed injuries to her left shoulder, low back, neck, right knee and right foot as a result of this accident. Harper’s medical bills totaled over nine thousand dollars. Counsel asked for an additional twenty-five thousand dollars to settle Harper’s personal injury claim against SEPTA. SEPTA denied payment.
Detectives reviewed the video surveillance footage from the Route 65 bus on the date of the incident. The footage shows the bus driving south bound in the right hand land as the green sedan attempts to merge from the right to the left lane. The sedan eventually passed the bus and brushed up against the left front bumper. The sedan continues to drive away from the bus without any damage. The bus is holding more than thirty passengers at the time of the contact and none of the passengers, including Alston and Harper, appear distressed or are physically disrupted.
Detectives arrested Tracy Alston on October 1, 2013 and Charelle Harper on October 2, 2013 for Insurance Fraud and Attempted Theft by Deception. Alston and Harper are next listed for a status hearing on October 7, 2013 in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
ADA Vicki Markovitz and Detective Donald Murtha are specially assigned to this case.