The third man present when a Philadelphia real estate developer was fatally stabbed last week near Rittenhouse Square tried to chase the suspect and called 911 while in pursuit, he and his lawyer said Tuesday.
Uri Jacobson, a Philadelphia entrepreneur, said outside a memorial reception for Sean Schellenger that he had been a passenger in a Mercedes-Benz with Schellenger, 37, and restaurateur Norris Jordan, who was driving, before the deadly altercation Thursday night on the 1700 block of Chancellor Street.
Jacobson, 47, said that when the Mercedes became stuck in traffic, he got out to try to get a car ahead of theirs to move. Then a bicycle courier — later identified by police as Michael White, 20 — allegedly stabbed Schellenger during an argument. Jacobson said that he did not see or hear what transpired, but that he tried to run after the man he believed was responsible, who ran away.
Jacobson's lawyer, Lauren Wimmer, a Center City criminal defense attorney, said her client "chased the alleged killer and promptly called 911 while chasing him," giving a "detailed description" of the suspect. Jacobson said he stopped running after he concluded he had been chasing the wrong person.
Jacobson and his lawyer both said he then returned to the crime scene, but Wimmer declined to say whether Jacobson spoke with investigators or police officers at the scene that night. She described police reports that he had fled the scene as a "misunderstanding" in the midst of a chaotic night.
The accounts offer new information in a homicide case that has attracted widespread attention, and came on a day when hundreds gathered in the morning to mourn Schellenger, of Point Breeze, at a service at Radnor High School, where his father once served as principal. People later gathered at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse at 1426 Chestnut St. for an afternoon reception.
Jacobson was at the reception around 3 p.m. at a high-top table, his head down, looking distraught. He agreed to speak with a reporter outside, saying he had been vilified as running from the scene.
Jacobson said he had been trying to defuse the traffic backlog on Chancellor when Schellenger was stabbed. He said he had not seen or heard much of the altercation.
Greg Thompson, a spokesman for White's family, has said that Schellenger tackled White, and that White used his knife in self-defense. Thompson also said that Schellenger, Jacobson, and Jordan were intoxicated and aggressive, accusations that lawyers for Jacobson and Jordan have denied.
Jordan was not intoxicated, said his lawyer, William Harvey, who added that Jordan "had Sean in his arms as he was dying" and "was with the police for three hours that night."
Wimmer, meanwhile, denied that Jacobson was intoxicated, and said White had grown confrontational and "inserted himself into the conversation."
"Whether this is a self-defense case is for a jury to decide," she said.
Wimmer said Jacobson lost the man he was chasing around 20th and Walnut Streets and then returned to the stabbing scene, but did not speak with investigators that night.
"The bottom line is that he immediately called 911 after the stabbing, and the evidence will support Mr. Jacobson's version of the incident," Wimmer said.
In 2013, Jacobson was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for paying employees at his Bare Feet Shoes stores under the table to avoid paying taxes. He also was found guilty of simple assault in 1999 and sentenced to a year's probation, according to court records. The details of that case were not immediately clear Tuesday.
Tuesday morning, hundreds of people filled the Radnor High auditorium for the memorial service.
"Sean is my hero and always will be," said his father, Mark, the high school's former principal. Sean Schellenger attended Great Valley and Coatesville Area High Schools and graduated from Coatesville.
Relatives, business partners, and friends delivered remarks describing Schellenger as energetic and outgoing, excited about life, and ambitious about his business.
His uncle Jeff Schellenger said: "Sean could make anyone family."
Mourners filled nearly every seat in the large auditorium, with others standing against the walls and spilling out into the hallway. Few speakers mentioned the incident that claimed Schellenger's life. But Schellenger's brother, Justin, concluded his brief remarks by saying: "I have no hate in my heart. I have no malice … because that's what Sean would want."
And his mother, Linda, said "two lives were lost in this disaster," referring to her son's death and White's imprisonment following his arrest over the weekend. White remains in custody awaiting a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 1.
White was formerly a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and friends said he wrote rap and slam poetry. He was charged last year with marijuana possession, theft, and other counts, according to court records. In January, the records say, he was allowed to enter a diversionary program that required him to perform community service and pay court costs.
White turned himself in to police Friday night in the murder case and was arraigned Saturday.
Schellenger had several brushes with the law in Pennsylvania and Florida in the 2000s, according to public documents.
In August 2001, he was charged in Chester County with burglary, resisting arrest, criminal trespassing, and theft; the disposition of that case was not available. In 2008, Schellenger was charged in Okaloosa County, Fla., with battery and resisting detention. Court documents describe the disposition of that case as "dropped/abandoned." In 2009, records show, Schellenger was found guilty of disorderly conduct in Chester County.
Speakers at Tuesday's memorial said Schellenger was an outsize presence who loved sports and his real estate development firm, Streamline Group LLC. Schellenger grew up competing in football, baseball, and wrestling, speakers said. He was a quarterback on the Pennsylvania State University football team for two years, and many recalled him as fiercely competitive, endlessly talkative, and someone who enjoyed life and could easily make friends.
Toward the end of the proceedings, the crowd rose and many sang along to a recording of Don McLean's "American Pie," which Schellenger's parents said was his favorite song.