The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.
State police are investigating the death of a Melcroft man who was killed in a hit-and-run accident that occurred in the dark along a country road in Bullskin Township six years ago.
Phillip F. Miller, 26, was killed along Englishman Hill Road on July 7, 2007, said Trooper John F. Marshall, who oversees the cold case investigations for the state police station in Uniontown. Marshall said Miller was found around 1:50 a.m., face down in the middle of the southbound lane.
There are no streetlights and few houses on that rural stretch of road. The speed limit is 35 mph, but Marshall said motorists may drive faster, particularly by that patch of asphalt that lies not too far from a bend in the road at the base of a hill.
Marshall held the thick case file in his hands while discussing the details of the case.
“When trying to put a closure to this, you don’t know possibly what happened prior to the accident or what Mr. Miller was doing at the point of impact. Was he intoxicated where he just passed out right there?” he asked. “And now we have someone who ran over Mr. Miller and left the scene of an accident.”
Marshall said after the accident, police interviewed people living in the area and checked their vehicles for damage that might be linked to the crime. He said, based on interviews and police work, there are theories about what happened that night which have led to persons of interest.
Police, Marshall said, did a thorough investigation that night and developed some good leads.
Marshall said Miller had been drinking with his brother Tim at a bar earlier in the evening. The two men left the bar together and were driving home when they got into an argument. Marshall said Phillip Miller decided he would rather walk, so he got out of his brother’s car.
“The brother went home, not thinking this would happen,” Marshall said.
Phillip Miller was wearing dark blue jeans, ankle socks, a gray T-shirt and white undershirt. Marshall said that his dark, plain clothing would not have aided motorists in spotting Miller on the road.
Marshall, who has traveled that road many times, described the area where the body was discovered.
He said that a motorist coming around the hill, maybe traveling the 35 mph speed limit, might have been able to see Miller.
However, Marshall noted that a vehicle’s headlights and the driver’s line of sight would have been aimed more into the field nearby than road ahead.
The autopsy and accident reconstructionist believe that Miller was not standing at the time he was killed, Marshall said, and that he was struck, but not dragged by, the vehicle. Miller’s legs were not broken and he had some head and back lacerations coupled with some road rash, police said. And, Miller shows no signs of violent trauma, meaning that he wasn’t stabbed or shot prior to the crash, Marshall said.
Another revealing fact — Marshall said Miller’s blood-alcohol-content was .28 — a higher-than-usual alcohol level that may be consistent with weaving in the road or passing out.
“You’re walking, you’re too weak, you stumble, you fall down and all of a sudden you are in the road,” he said. “You can’t get up as fast — a car is coming. I would certainly like to know if the driver — did he see him try to get up and it was too late?”
Marshall said after considering all these facts, the case builds on two theories.
“There’s two possibilities,” he said. “Due the fact that he is not standing, was he assaulted down to the ground or did he simply have too much to drink, passed out on the road, and there could be anybody driving that road (who hit him with that vehicle).”
To make things more complex, Miller’s case doesn’t have some of the baggage that previous cold cases show — suspects with a motive. Marshall said in those cases, the killer and the victim have had some kind of interaction prior to the crime. He said in this case, that might necessarily not be so.
“This one is harder because, number one, you have an individual and someone else that are not related, not intertwined whatsoever, so that makes it really hard,” he said. “With all these other (cases), you know the suspect and the victim are intertwined, but with something like this? That’s why it makes it hard to track down serial killers because he has not had interaction with victims. They are just random — doesn’t know them. Basically, that’s on the same premise as this. That driver most likely had no connection with this gentleman on the road...”