Investigators say they were able to crack a complex triple murder case that spanned two counties by using a brand-new, sophisticated crime-fighting tool. It's the first of its kind in all of Pennsylvania.
Tuesday, authorities announced the arrests of two brothers for allegedly killing Rafael Alequin of Berks Co. and Dario McLemore of Northampton Co.
Both men were gunned down in a Reading park on December 4.
Three weeks later, police say a woman connected to the victims was tortured and killed. Jennifer Velez-Negron's burned body was found in Salisbury Twp., Lehigh Co.
Investigators say the key to cracking the case began in a non-descript building in downtown Allentown. It's the Lehigh Valley's version of "CSI."
"Time is of the essence, especially when you're working critical investigations, such as homicides," said Allentown assistant police chief Joe Hanna.
It's called "RIIC" -- the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center. RIIC creates one Google-like database where cops can search investigation data from every single police agency in Lehigh County, including State Police.
"There's three and a half million records currently in the RIIC system," said Hanna. "An officer that's looking for someone with a specific handgun or a specific car, just plugs in those keywords and the system does the rest of the work."
It's the first completely integrated, regional system of its kind in the state.
According Lehigh Co. District Attorney Jim Martin, RIIC provided the missing links to bust these brothers for murder.
"It also provides more access to prison records and that access was instrumental in allowing Detective Sabo and Detective Tallarico to develop leads in this investigation," said Martin. "Leads that led back to individuals who gave information. Leads that led back to a vehicle. Leads that included cell phone data and plotting that data and tracking it."
Right now this groundbreaking crime center only serves Lehigh Co. and a few departments in Northampton Co., but the plan -- or, at least, the hope -- is that it will expand.
"I would very much like to see the capabilities of the center be made available to the Berks County police department as well as the Northampton County police department so that it truly is a regional center," said Martin.
So far, 150 detectives are trained on RIIC. It cost $2 million, partly covered by federal grants. For the victims' families, money likely well spent.
Allentown, PA 18102