New Jersey Real-Time News
A former Linden police officer has been quoting the Bible on his way into court for a trial in a double-fatal crash. Watch video
STATEN ISLAND -- A tractor-trailer driver on Monday testified he tried to avoid a car driven by former Linden police officer Pedro Abad as it barrelled toward him and struck the truck head-on, killing two passengers in the car.
Brandon Lee Getz said he was driving the tractor trailer south on the West Shore Expressway on March 20, 2015, when he saw a car in front him suddenly swerve to the right and another swerve to the left.
"That's when I seen the headlights coming toward me," Getz said. "I slammed on the brakes and drove towards the guardrail. That's when I was hit."
Getz said Abad's car was driving the wrong way in the middle of the two lanes of the highway, straddling the lane line.
"I was just hoping ... If he stayed where he was, he would have missed me," Getz said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Mark Palladino.
Authorities say Abad, 29, was driving drunk that night while returning home from the Curves strip club. He is accused of driving north in the southbound lanes of the highway and crashing head-on into the tractor-trailer, killing fellow Linden officer Frank Viggiano and Linden resident Joseph Rodriguez who were passengers in his car.
A third Linden officer, Patrik Kudlac, then 23, was also in the car and was critically injured, as was Abad. Kudlac recovered but was forced to resign from the police department because of his injuries. Abad was fired because he was unable to return to work.
Abad has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and manslaughter, among other charges. He had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, prosecutors say. Abad's attorney, Mario Gallucci, contends proper procedures were not followed in taking and testing a blood sample.
Getz, who delivers flour for the Pennsylvania company Snavely's Mill, was returning from a delivery in Brooklyn.
He testified that he swerved onto a grass median near a guardrail when he was hit in what he described as a loud, abrupt jolt that knocked the hood off his truck.
"I was in shock," he said, explaining his right hand and lower back were in pain. He got out of the truck and crossed the two lanes of the highway to stand on the edge of the road with a witness who had stopped at the scene. Getz never approached the car or saw the four men inside, he said.
Police gave Getz a breathalyzer test at the scene, he said, and another breathalyzer test and a drug test at a hospital where taken for treatment of injuries. He said he was never arrested and never faced any discipline from his employer.
Jurors on Monday also saw a video that police made recreating the trip Abad allegedly took from the strip club, along Arthur Kill Road and the service road and exit ramp that he drove down the wrong way to enter the highway. The video showed two "Do Not Enter" signs on the roadway.
Gallucci objected to showing the video, but Judge Mario Mattei overruled the objection.
Mattei, however, told jurors that the video was intended to show the roadway, and said the jury should not consider the speed police were traveling when they made the recording, and should not consider any other traffic shown on the roadway.
Police said they used Narcan to revive the driver and adult passenger, who were both unconscious.
Trooper Alejandro Goez said charges are pending against the teenager, and her adult passenger was arrested on drug charges.
Goez said both the driver and passenger, a 19-year-old man from Delanco Township, were found unconscious in the car and had to be revived with Narcan. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
No one was injured in the crash, including the 5-year-old child in the car. Goez said the driver and passenger were taken to Cooper University Hospital in Camden after they were revived.
The vehicle was traveling south near milepost 0.6 in Gloucester City at 9:39 p.m. when it crashed into a barrier and ended up in the median, Goez said. It was previously reported that the crash was in Bellmawr.
The 19-year-old was charged with possession of drugs without a prescription.
Goez said he had no information to release about whether the child was related to either the driver or the adult passenger.
The crash remains under investigation by State Police.
Rockaway Township Police Office Wilfredo Guzman is being released from the Morris County Jail
MORRISTOWN -- A Rockaway Township police officer charged Sunday with sexually assaulting two teenage girls is being released from jail.
Officer Wilfredo Guzman, 44, of Rockaway Township, appeared via video hookup Monday in Superior Court before Judge Michael Carlucci.
Morris County Assistant Prosector Laura Magnone agreed to Guzman's release from the county jail, subject to electronic monitoring and a no-contact order with the alleged victims.
Guzman did not enter a plea during the 1:40 p.m. hearing. He will be released after being served with the restraining orders at the jail.
Guzman's attorney, Herbert Waldman, said he met with him before the hearing.
"Hopefully he'll be doing a lot better when he gets out," Waldman told NJ Advance Media.
The arrest of Guzman, a Rockaway Township police officer since 2003, was announced Sunday by Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp and Rockaway Township Police Chief Martin McParland Jr.
The two second-degree sexual assault charges against Guzman stem from his alleged involvement with two teenage girls in 2014 and 2015. One girl was between the ages of 16 and 17 and the other was 15, authorities said.
Guzman allegedly provided both girls with alcohol and prescription medication and "engaged in acts of sexual penetration," Knapp and McParland said in their joint statement.
His age is 44, not 40 as initially stated by authorities.
In addition to sexual assault, Guzman is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a third-degree crime.
Waldman declined to discuss the charges following the hearing.
Larry Helwig, 72, of Bridgewater, has been identified as the person killed in the April 23, 2017, fatal accident involving a State Police troop car on Route 22 in Hunterdon County.
Larry Helwig, 72, of Bridgewater, driving a GMC Envoy, was killed in the collision with a marked Ford Crown Victoria troop car at the intersection of westbound Route 22 and Cokesbury Road in Hunterdon County, State Police said on Monday afternoon. The accident happened at 7:57 a.m.; Helwig was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:35 a.m.
Trooper Emmanuel Gonzalo, 26, was heading west on Route 22 while responding to an accident on Interstate 78 in Union Township in Hunterdon County, police said.
Jane Roxbury, 67, of Lebanon, a passenger in the Envoy, was flown to Morristown Medical Center where she was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said. Gonzalo was taken to Hunterdon Medical Center in Raritan Township where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and later released.
Gonzalo is a member of the State Police's Perryville Barracks, police said.
State Police said the accident remains under investigation.
The identity of the man is being withheld
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST -- An airman stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was fatally struck by a New York City subway train on Sunday, officials said.
The identity of the man is being withheld pending notification of his family.
Base officials did not release any details about the incident, but multiple news organizations reported that a man was struck and killed by a train at Union Station around 4:40 a.m.
The motorman of an uptown Q train got out to inspect the tracks after the train's emergency brakes were triggered, the New York Daily News reported. He discovered a man under the train with severe trauma to his upper body. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police are also investigating if the man is same one who grabbed a woman's buttocks in town on April 12.
PRINCETON -- A woman using the bathroom at Triumph Brewery Sunday night saw a man peeking through an opening in the stall door, Princeton police said.
The woman pointed the man out to the bar's management, who asked him to leave the Nassau Street brew pub.Police say this man spied on a woman in a Triumph Brewery bathroom.
The pub management called police following the 11:25 p.m. incident, but the man was gone when patrol officers arrived, police spokesman Sgt. Frederick Williams said.
The man apparently followed the woman into the bathroom. And as she was in the stall, she saw an eyeball looking at her, Williams said.
Williams said police are also investigating if the man is same one who grabbed a woman's buttocks in town on April 12. No firm connection has been made, but police cannot rule the incidents are related, Williams said.
The town has had several, other groping incidents since 2015.
In the Triumph case, the man is described as Hispanic, 25 to 30 years old, 5-feet 8-inches tall with an average build, medium skin tone and was clean shaven. He wore a grey hooded vest and long-sleeve black shirt and a red and black Atlanta Falcons baseball cap.
Police ask that anyone who has seen him - or business owners who have footage of him - to contact police Detective Detective Robert Allie at 609-921-2100 ext. 2123.
Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez pressed attorneys on both sides to wrap up pre-trial proceedings to allow the attempted murder and arson case to move forward.
NEW BRUNSWICK -- The case against a former Edison police officer charged with firebombing his supervisor's house in 2013 has dragged on long enough and needs to be taken to trial, a judge said Monday.
"Let me start off by saying, this is case is old, real old," Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez said during a hearing on evidence in the case Monday. "It's in my lap now I need to get it resolved."
Michael Dotro, 39, of Manalapan, has one case against him set for trial in August, but the most serious charges of attempted murder and arson have been held up in pre-trial motions and appeals for months.
Dotro is accused of setting his police captain's house on fire while his wife, children and 92-year-old mother were asleep. Edison police Capt. Mark Anderko had ordered Dotro to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation and changed his shift days before the fire, authorities said.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said Dotro was angry about the orders and the arson was payback.
The most recent delays in the case have focused requests by Dotro's attorneys to inspect the pickup truck he allegedly used on the night of the firebombing.
The state appeals court ruled in February to allow the inspection without the prosecutor's office present, as long as the defense met a handful of requirements, including an extensive video recording and being supervised by two retired judges.
Dotro's defense team was supposed to have inspected the truck in April and return the video the Jimenez, but the inspection was delayed due to scheduling conflicts with the retired judges, Dotro's attorney Robert Norton said in court.
"I've got my work cut out for me to find a date that's acceptable for everyone," Norton said. "I know you want this done. I want this done as well. We are certainly not delaying it by any fashion."
Norton told the judge he expected the inspection to occur in mid-May.
Norton is also representing Dotro in a separate, unrelated official misconduct case in which Dotro is accused of buying marijuana in uniform, allegedly for his wife, Alycia, and trying to sell the drug.
Dotro and his wife are also accused of slashing a woman's tires who worked in the police department's violations bureau and accessing the department's computer database illegally to review police records on the incident together.
The couple's two-week trial in that case is scheduled to start on Aug. 14.
In January, Dotro was sentenced to probation after striking a plea deal in a case where he and three other officers planned to get back at another officer who gave Dotro's family member a DUI.
Dotro resigned from the force in September after making the deal. In December, his bail was reduced to $800,000 and his travel restrictions were lifted.
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A Stafford man has pleaded guilty to a string of diesel fuel thefts.Robert Bailey III, 47, of Stafford TownshipFile Photo
Robert Bailey, 49, of Stafford Township, admitted last week in Atlantic County Superior Court to charges of aggravated arson and theft, according to a statement from the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
Authorities say that in 2015 Bailey used a modified mini-bus to siphon fuel from underground storage tanks at gas stations in Atlantic, Camden, Morris and Ocean counties. The modified vehicle had a generator and storage tanks, which Bailey used to pump and store the fuel before fleeing, the statement said.
In December 2014, authorities in Berlin Township said a Valero gas station reported more than 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel stolen from an underground tank, authorities said.
One of the vehicles allegedly used in the fuel thefts was seized and impounded by the Egg Harbor Township Police Department on Jan. 7, 2015 at the department's tow lot.
A week later, Bailey "entered the lot and torched the vehicle, causing a fire and explosion that destroyed the mini-bus and damaged other vehicles on the lot," officials said.
Bailey was ultimately arrested in March 2015 at his Stafford home.
Under the plea deal, Bailey will be sentenced to seven years in state prison. He will be required to serve a minimum of three years before being eligible for parole, according to officials.
Bailey is scheduled to be sentenced on July 14.
S&P Global Ratings said schools and local governments have some flexibility to raise taxes to deal with relatively flat funding. Watch video
The budget includes just $16.1 million in new direct aid for schools, and the vast majority of schools won't see any increase from this year's levels. They do benefit from indirect aid, in which the state picks up the tab for debt service and teacher retirement benefits. Those supports would increase by more than $500 million from this year to next.
Local governments won't fare much better, S&P Global Ratings said, as they'll receive just $1.7 million, or 0.11 percent, more than the current budget.
Both are limited by state law on how much they can increase property tax levies from year to year. There are, however, some exceptions. Property taxes and state aid are their primary sources of income.
But school districts that are seeing enrollment growth will likely struggle most, analysis said.
New Jersey school districts with booming enrollment have been hit especially hard during Christie's tenure because the governor has regularly awarded flat state aid. Even if Christie had followed the formula, a cap implemented by state lawmakers would restrict some districts from seeing the full increase in aid they are owed under the formula.
"The proposed budget holds kindergarten-grade 12 aid to schools flat to fiscal 2017 levels for most aid items, except for charter school aid, host district support aid and school choice aid," S&P said. "Therefore, districts experiencing enrollment increases could face budgetary pressure as state aid effectively declines on a per pupil basis."
S&P said it doesn't expect Christie's budget, as proposed, to move municipalities' credit ratings, but funding for schools is more unsettled.
The governor wants to rewrite the school funding formula, under which 31 districts are guaranteed higher funding and receive more than half of the roughly $9 billion in direct state aid.
Dropping his own plan, Christie in his February budget addresse issued a challenge to Democrats who control the Legislature to work with him to come up with a new funding scheme.
What progress, if any, they've made is unclear.
"Changes that result in significant loss of state aid revenue could place pressure on a district's fiscal position, particularly those with limited reserves," S&P said.
The victim was found in a pickup truck along East Landis Avenue Friday morning, police said.
VINELAND -- A police officer likely saved the life of a heroin overdose victim found gasping for air in his pickup truck on a city street, authorities said.
Police said Vineland Officer Agustin Santiago found a 34-year-old Vineland man in his pickup truck along East Landis Avenue west of where it intersects with Sixth Street gasping for air Friday at 8:45 a.m.
A citizen tip lead police to the man who was inside his red GMC pickup pulled over along the westbound lanes of the roadway.
According to authorities, the truck's engine was running with its reverse lights on and the man inside was gasping for air.
It was determined that he had overdosed on heroin, police said, and he was administered Narcan by Santiago which revived him.
The man was then taken to an area hospital for further evaluation. Police said he refused blood tests so a warrant had to be sought to allow those to be taken.
Afterward he was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics, reckless driving, operating an uninsured motor vehicle and failure to inspect his vehicle.
After being charged he was released pending a court appearance.
City police made a traffic stop after watching a 25-year-old man make what appeared to be a drug deal and then recovered 91 grams of suspected cocaine during a search of his home.
JERSEY CITY -- Police conducted a traffic stop after watching a 25-year-old man make what appeared to be a drug deal and then they recovered 91 grams of cocaine during a search of the man's home, authorities said.
Kevin M. Lemus, of the 200 block of Winfield Avenue, is charged with drug possession, possession with intent to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of Soaring Heights Charter School and within 500 feet of Columbia Park, the criminal complaint said.
Jersey City police officers were watching as a man approached a Jeep and made an apparent drug purchase at a gas station on Kennedy Boulevard near Danforth Avenue on Thursday at 10:30 p.m.
Police then stopped the Jeep driven by Lemus and he gave consent to search his home, where the 3.2 ounces of cocaine was found, the complaint says.
Lemus made his first court appearance on the charges on Friday in Criminal Justice Reform Court in Jersey City via video link from Hudson County jail in Kearny.
Michael Rios was twice charged with criminal possession of a weapon
NEW YORK -- A 25-year-old man was arrested on back-to-back days at LaGuardia Airport for trying to bring weapons through security, authorities said.A collection of weapons police say they seized from a Bangor, Maine man on Friday and Saturday at New York's LaGuardia Airport.Port Authority police
Michael A. Rios Jr. of Bangor, Maine attempted to go through a checkpoint at Terminal D with a gravity knife and metal knuckles in his carry-on bag at 8:10 a.m Friday, Port Authority police said in a statement.
Screeners saw the weapons and stopped him.
Rios returned the following day, police said. This time he allegedly tried to board with an air pistol, six knives, throwing stars and other items at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, according to police.
He was twice charged with criminal possession of a weapon. No flights were delayed.
Police announced they arrested a wanted Newark man during an unrelated investigation.Solomon. (Courtesy Newark Police)
Omar Solomon, 30 was wanted on murder and weapons charges in the July 10, 2010 killing of Leon Truesdale, whose body was found in an apartment complex parking lot, police said.
Solomon was arrested Wednesday during a drug investigation at 14th Avenue and Hayes Street - about two blocks from the alleged 2010 killing, authorities said.
According to police at the time, Truesdale, 30, was shot multiple times after 4 a.m. in the hallway of a building in the 100 block of Newton Street. Responding officers found only a pool of blood in the hallway, and Truesdale's body about a block away, near the intersection of Bruce Street and 14th Avenue, in a parking lot. He was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
A warrant was issued for Solomon's arrest in August 2010. Additional details about the drug operation that led to Solomon's arrest were not immediately available.
The negative impacts will be severely felt by New Jersey residents of all ages, especially in the midst of the opioid epidemic, and taxpayers would bear the financial burden.
By Debra L. Wentz
Now is the time for Congress to come together to ensure all Americans have affordable, quality health care.
The draconian cuts that have been proposed in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the bill that would repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), are certainly not the fixes that are needed.
The AHCA would be devastating to millions who would lose coverage, and millions more that would lose important protections while seeing their premiums rise. It would also damage healthcare systems and leave gaping holes in state budgets across the country.
In New Jersey alone, over one million individuals would lose their insurance under the AHCA. Among them are tens of thousands of individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders who are at risk of losing life-saving services from community-based providers.
Now is not the time to reverse gains achieved through Medicaid expansion, which enabled childless adults aged 21 to 64 to receive Medicaid coverage for the first time. It is the moment for Congress to recommit to this life-saving coverage.
New Jersey has been transitioning mental health and substance use treatment services from contracts to fee-for-service reimbursement since last summer in order to maximize the federal matching contributions under Medicaid.
New Jersey's community-based behavioral health system of care will soon be overwhelmingly dependent on those enhanced federal matching funds. Losing the funding for the expansion population, or even having it greatly reduced from the current 95 percent federal participation, would decimate the current system of care.
Additionally, because of the Medicaid expansion, hospitals in New Jersey have had the charity care funding they receive from the State significantly reduced for several years now. Without the State being able to restore that funding, hospitals, too, would face substantial financial losses under the AHCA.
The resulting statewide reductions in the capacity to provide mental health and substance use treatment services, combined with the significantly higher number of uninsured individuals, would lead to substantial increases in extremely costly alternatives: emergency room visits, hospitalizations, homelessness and incarceration.
The negative impacts will be severely felt by New Jersey residents of all ages, especially in the midst of the opioid epidemic, and taxpayers would bear the financial burden.
Now is the time to fight against the AHCA and any similar proposal in order to avoid tragic and costly health consequences for millions of individuals. And it is time for Congress to improve the ACA, not destroy it, and ensure that all Americans receive affordable, comprehensive, quality health care regardless of their age, their pre-existing conditions or where they live.
Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA), a statewide trade association representing 160 organizations that serve New Jersey residents with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, and their families.
Preston Taylor, 19, was accused of helping to throw Sarah Stern's body off the Route 35 bridge in Belmar early Dec. 3.
FREEHOLD -- A Neptune City teen pleaded guilty Monday to throwing the body of his childhood friend, Sarah Stern, from the Route 35 bridge in Belmar and agreed to testify against the man accused of strangling her in December.
Preston Taylor, 19, was charged with helping another high school friend, Liam McAtasney, dump Stern's body early on Dec. 3 and leaving her car on the bridge in an attempt to make her death appear like a suicide.
In a tension-filled 50-minute court proceeding before Superior Court Judge Richard English, Taylor pleaded guilty to robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, disturbing or desecrating human remains, tampering with physical evidence and two counts of hindering apprehension.Sarah SternMaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
A somber Taylor, with his hands shackled to his waist, provided the judge and the attorneys with chilling details of the case, saying it was McAtasney's plan to kill Stern after learning in August that she had come into money from her grandmother.
He told of how they discussed the plan several times over the following months, with Taylor initially trying to dissuade McAtasney from killing their friend but then eventually giving in to the plan.
In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the most serious charge against him -- felony murder. He could have faced life without parole if convicted of that charge.
"He came up with a few ideas to kill her and dispose of the body to get the money," Taylor said of McAtasney.
Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Decker asked Taylor a series of questions to show that he knew of McAtasney's plans but didn't try to talk him out of it or go to police.
The only instruction Taylor gave McAtasney, he acknowledged, was to tell him to avoid killing Stern during daylight hours.
"Liam McAtasney needed your help on that bridge," Decker said.
"Yes," Taylor responded.
"And you provided that help," Decker followed up.
"Yes," Taylor repeated.
As it stands now, prosecutors plan to ask for a 20-year prison term. His attorney, John Perrone, will argue at sentencing for a 10-year prison term. Based on New Jersey's criminal laws, Taylor would have to serve 17 years before becoming eligible for parole if he gets the 20-year sentence.
His sentencing was set for July 21, but that date could be delayed if he has not yet testified in McAtasney's case.
Taylor's plea comes the same day the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office is expected to present the case to a grand jury for indictment. Perrone said Taylor wanted to admit his role.
"He's got closure. He made admissions," Perrone said after court. "This was something he had to get off his chest. He had to atone for this."
He said McAtasney, whom Taylor has known since their freshman year of high school, is a "Manson-like person," who exerted control over Taylor much like serial killer Charles Manson held over his cult followers.
Taylor said he was to get $3,000 of the $10,000 McAtasney stole from Stern that she kept in a safe in her bedroom.
After the killing, they broke open the safe, which they later buried empty at Shark River Park in Wall Township, and put the stolen money in another safe they buried at Sandy Hook, Taylor said.
Taylor said he was at work with his father on Dec. 2 when McAtasney called to tell him he was going to "do it," which Taylor knew meant kill Stern and steal her money. When McAtasney returned to the Neptune City house he shared with Taylor, he told Taylor he had strangled Stern and hid her body in a downstairs bathroom of her home.
McAtasney instructed Taylor to go back to the house to hide Sarah's body outside and to search for a cellphone McAtasney left behind, Taylor said.
Following those instructions, Taylor walked to her house, went in the back door and dragged her body to the backyard where he hid her body in bushes and covered it with leaves, he said.
When McAtasney finished work for the night, the pair went back to Stern's house to retrieve her body, Taylor said.
He said McAtasney put her body in the front passenger seat of her car and drove it to the Route 35 bridge while Taylor followed in his car. With Taylor on the northbound side and McAtasney on the southbound side, they waited until traffic was clear before removing her body, Taylor said.
McAtasney couldn't get her body over the railing, so Taylor drove his car behind Stern's and helped his friend toss it over the side, he said.
"You're certain the body went over the side?" Perrone asked his client.
"Yes," Taylor said.
That question posed to dispel claims that Stern committed suicide or ran away.
Taylor said he and McAtasney later made up stories that Stern had once tried to commit suicide.
"What was the purpose of leaving the car?" Perrone asked.
"To make it look like a suicide," Taylor said.
Taylor was arrested Feb. 2, nearly two months after Stern was reported missing. Her car was found abandoned on the Route 35 bridge with the keys inside, prompting a massive search and weeks of uncertainty about her fate.
McAtasney, 19, is charged with strangling Stern and robbing her. The two teenagers grew up with Stern in the same Neptune City community. Taylor took Stern to the junior prom.
While Taylor detailed his involvement, his parents sat in the back row of the courtroom listening glumly.
Stern's father, Michael Stern, sat in the front row using a tissue to dab tears from his eyes.
Taylor has remained in the Monmouth County jail since his arrest.
A witness told investigators McAtasney admitted to strangling Stern, 19, in her Neptune home on Dec. 2 before stealing money from her, authorities have said. Authorities initially said they stole $7,000 but Taylor on Monday said it was $10,000.
Stern's body has not been recovered but authorities have occasionally returned to the river to search. They were most recently there on Friday along with Taylor.
Perrone sought to have his client released from jail under the state's new bail guidelines. But Judge David Bauman ruled to keep Taylor behind bars, and a state appellate last week court upheld that decision.
He said Taylor was raised by "very down-to-earth and wholesome people," attended Catholic schools and was religious before he met McAtasney.
"There was a change," he said. "And this change was Liam McAtasney."