The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.
State police Sgt. Joseph D’Andrea said he still remembers the case like it was yesterday.
“It is the only fatal crash reconstruction I did during my career that remains unsolved,” D’Andrea said. “The 7-7-07 case. A lot of things stick out about that one, most notably the fact that it remains open.”
On July 7, 2007, Phillip F. Miller, 26, of Melcroft was killed in a hit-and-run accident that occurred before dawn on Englishman Hill Road in Bullskin Township.
Trooper John F. Marshall, who oversees the cold case files for the state police in Uniontown, said Miller’s body was found in the southbound lane around 1:50 a.m.
In the hours and days after Miller’s body was discovered, Marshall said police learned he had been traveling with his brother, Timothy Miller, in a vehicle after leaving a bar in the area early that morning.
The men got into an argument and Phillip Miller got out of the vehicle after deciding to walk home.
Tim Miller told police that he never saw his brother alive again.
Marshall said that despite minimal evidence to work with, investigators were able to develop several suspects in the incident and are still working more than six years later to put the final puzzle pieces into place.
He said that a fatal hit-and-run is approached much the same as any other crime scene.
“These scenes are always treated first as crime scenes, from evidence recovery and collection to our examination of the incident afterward,” Marshall said. “Obviously, the big difference is that this is one with a vehicle, so we know what the weapon is.”
The autopsy indicated that Phillip Miller was not standing at the time he was killed, Marshall said, and that he was struck, but not dragged, by the vehicle. Phillip Miller also showed no signs of violent trauma, indicating that he hadn’t been attacked with a knife or shot prior to being struck by a vehicle, Marshall noted.
“There was nothing to indicate that he was standing,” D’Andrea said, noting that the driver of the vehicle had just negotiated a left curve before striking Phillip Miller.
D’Andrea, who was the primary crash reconstructionist with the state police in Uniontown for nearly two decades, said that even an intoxicated driver would have realized they had run something over.
“They had actually made a left curve and the lights would have illuminated Mr. Miller and they would have known they had run over something and likely would have known it was a human being,” D’Andrea said. “To make that turn before striking him, the driver had to be, at least, somewhat attentive.”
Marshall said that the autopsy also revealed that Phillip Miller was highly intoxicated when he was struck by the car, leading investigators to theorize that he had collapsed in the road prior to being struck.
But, regardless, if Phillip Miller was prone on the road or standing, D’Andrea said that any driver would have had difficulty avoiding him.
“It would have been very hard,” D’Andrea said. “The victim was struck, and there were no skid marks, but that, too, is not uncommon for night driving, considering the time and distance.”
D’Andrea said that he was also able to determine that whoever struck Phillip Miller wasn’t traveling all that fast at the time.
‘They were not going at great speed based on the evidence,” D’Andrea said. “The vehicle struck him or pushed him and it would have been traveling toward Breakneck Road from Route 982. The vehicle would have been traveling east. That is really all we were able to know for sure.”
D’Andrea, who still oversees crash reconstruction at the Uniontown station, called the case “very strange,” noting that in most pedestrian cases, there is something significant to go on.
“There was a pattern on the body and the clothes that made me think it was from the skid pan of a vehicle. There was also a piece of plastic of a bumper. But there really was very little. There were some suspicious things, but some things are very difficult to prove.”
In the end, D’Andrea said that if the person had simply stopped to render aid, it is hard to tell if charges would have even been warranted.
“If the person had stopped, I don’t know what would have happened as far as prosecution, but they did not, so that changed when they fled.”
Anyone with information regarding Phillip Miller’s death is asked to call police at 724-439-7111.
Additionally, Marshall said Fayette County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Tips can be made by calling 1-888-404-TIPS.