"I started thinking, wondering. Did he see the signs? Did he not see the signs? What was he doing?" Ramzi Abedelhaq, 29, a gas station manager asked himself.
Ramzi and surveillance video saw the black Honda Civic turn the wrong way onto a service road where it ended up driving north on the southbound lane of the West Shore Expressway near Arthur Kill Rd at 4:49 am on March 20 2015. The first call to 911 came in at 4:51 am that morning and Ramzi, who has seen numerous cars do the same thing in the past, knew that there had been an accident not far away. He had seen the Civic drive past his station causing oncoming cars to dodge it before ignoring two "One Way" signs and two "Do Not Enter" signs before making an illegal turn onto the ramp that has a posted speed of 50 mph.
Once it had managed to get onto the wrong side of the highway they were headed towards two tractor trailers. The first truck managed to avoid hitting the Civic but the second did not have time to dodge them and crushed the Civic head on. The car was instantly destroyed, it's front end flattened and the roof was sheared off. Four men occupied the vehicle at the time, one died at the scene, one was pronounced DOA at Staten Island University Center and two survived but are listed in critical condition.
Three of the men in the Civic were off-duty Linden police officers who were returning home after the night out. Officer Pedro Abad, 27, was driving at the time and is in critical condition at Richmond University Medical Center after undergoing brain surgery. Joseph Rodriquez, 28, was in the front passenger seat and died at the scene of the crash. Officer Frank Viggiano, 28 was seated in the right rear passenger seat and he was DOA at the hospital. Officer Patrik Kudlac, 23, was seated behind Abad and is listed in critical condition at Staten Island University North Hospital.
The police have stated the the driver of the truck was not seriously injured and had not been under the influence at the time of the crash. The same can not be easily said about the occupants of the Civic but the police have stated that they found no evidence of alcohol in the car itself. What is known is that the four had been out eating sushi earlier in the night and had ended up at Curves, a gentleman's club.
Whatever the final outcome of the investigation, the Linden police force is in mourning. They have stated that there is an ongoing investigation into the accident and they are going to examine the Civic's black box for information. They are also waiting to hear back as to whether alcohol played a significant part of the accident. I understand that the police have to do a thorough investigation but at this point, it is pretty safe to say that they should not have been driving home in their condition.
Being a police officer should mean that you hold yourself to a higher standard than everyone else and I am going to find it difficult to not believe that they were drunk before they ever got into the car. Many of us try to teach our children that it is not okay to drive drunk and it is definitely okay to not get in the car when the driver is drunk. Unfortunately, it seems that these four men did not heed that advice and have sadly paid a very high price for it.
Update March 20 2015:
Update March 22 2015:
The two surviving officers are still listed in critical condition but police have applied for a warrant to test Abad's blood for alcohol presence and levels. The four men had been at Central Park, a Roselle bar and restaurant earlier in the evening before traveling to Curves. The police have been interviewing employees there and have asked that they do not give interviews to the media since there is still an ongoing investigation.
The truck driver was listed in stable condition with non life threatening injuries and was later released from the hospital. He has not been named but it has been reported that he is 33 years old and from Manheim PA. He was driving a truck for Snavely Mills which has three locations in PA where it grinds flour for resale. While he was not seriously injured physically, I am sure that he will suffer because of the accident he could not avoid being involved in.
Update March 24 2015:
It has been reported that both Abad and Kudlac are still in critical condition but stable with no new changes. There has also been no updates as to whether Abad's blood has been tested yet or even if a warrant has been approved for that. The truck driver, Brandon Lee Getz, 33, has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the crash and he just unfortunately was unable to swerve his rig and miss the wrong way driving Abad.
The NYPD though has had Curves Gentleman's Club on their internal list of spots that is off-limits to it's officers for years. They typically designate locations as banned for a variety of reasons including being corruption prone and officers are banned from visiting them even when they are off duty. The Linden police have stated that they did not know that the NYPD had it on a list for it's officers and added that their officers are not prohibited from going there.
According to new information just released, Pedro Abad did not have a squeaky clean driving record. Abad had been involved in six auto accidents dating back to 2005, had a violation for using his cell phone while driving which was tied to an August 2012 accident and received violations for DUI after another accident in Feb 26 2013 in Rahway NJ. He received a violation for DUI as well as for refusing a breathalyzer test and he eventually had his license suspended for seven months. He got his license back in May 2014 and he was required to use a breath-alcohol ignition interlock until Sept 11 2014. There has been no information as to who was at fault in the eight accidents he evidently collected on his record.
Sadly, it is probably a moot point to test the officers for an alcohol level because none of the four seemed to have noticed at any time that Abad was driving the wrong way. They did not notice it before they had reached the wrong ramp and the surveillance video shows several cars veering out of the way of the Honda and they did not immediately notice it once they were on the highway. Abad should have known better after receiving his license back less than a year ago.
The funeral for Rodriguez will be held at 10 am at St Elizabeth Church in Linden on March 25th and the funeral for Viggiano's funeral will be held at 10:30 am on March 26th at the Linden Presbyterian Church in Linden.
Update March 25 2015:
The funeral for Joseph Rodriguez will be held today. His sister has stated that she feels that he should never have died in the wreck. He is described as a gentle, helpful and generous family man who enjoyed hosting backyard parties. He was an avid Oakland Raiders and New York Yankees fan who enjoyed fishing and spending time at the shore with family.
It has also been reported that Pedro Abad had not one but two DUI arrests. The arrest in 2013 came after he struck a parked car and the owner called the police to report it. She stated that she was afraid he would try to flee the scene after following her into her home apologizing and falling against the walls. The dashcam video of this arrest has also been made available but there hasn't been any reports detailing his earlier DUI arrest.
Dashcam available on :
Update March 25 2015:
It has now been reported as to what had happened in Abad's first DUI accident. The records at the Motor Vehicle Commission list that Abad did have an accident on Jan 22 2011 but they do not list where the accident occurred or if there were any charges filed in relation to it.
What has been reported is that Abad was driving a black 2010 Audi A5 when he swerved off the road and stuck a bus stop sign, stop sign and a street sign before crashing through the wall of the New Way Supermarket at 3:45 am. The store is was located on the corner of St George Ave and Rivington St. in Roselle NJ. There were three Linden police officers and two Union County police officers on the scene of the accident by the time Officer Vaughn arrived on the scene to make a report.
Vaughn reported that Abad was unconscious with a bloody nose and sitting in the drivers seat when he arrived. The car was described as being almost entirely inside of the store and had caused extensive damage. A fire fighter who was assisting at the scene reported smelling alcohol on Abad's breath and Abad stated that he had a couple of mixed drinks at a local club. He was taken to the hospital and blood was drawn to be tested but there is no report of the results in the report. Abad was charged with DUI and careless driving but it is uncertain what happened to the case. The records in the Municipal Court show that the charges were dismissed but it is not listed as why they were. The New Way Supermarket was closed for a month after the accident because of the extensive repairs that had to be made.
The accident in 2013 took place at 5 am on a Tuesday morning and involved Abad driving his 2011 BMW 335 into a parked car. He can be seen on the video stumbling, slurring his words and at one point stating that he knew one of the officers from the academy. He also fails to perform any of the sobriety tests as well as having to stay leaning on the car. He did get his license suspended for that DUI but only for 7 months.
Sadly, it seems as though Abad was driving when it could have been prevented if the first DUI had been prosecuted. That accident certainly was not just a charge of weaving in his lane while driving but involved a serious accident. It may have prevented two young men from dying while he was at the wheel.
Update March 30 2015:
There have been more details emerging about Abad's past driving record and some of his previous accidents. The first accident where he was charged with a DUI is still incomplete but it has been reported that he may have managed to have that charge dismissed because the officer on scene had not obtained a search warrant to get the blood sample that would have proven if he was under the influence. It was also claimed that his statements made at the scene had also been obtained illegally. Police in NJ had routinely obtained both of these based on probable cause in the past but that changed in 2013 when they were they were faced with a supreme court ruling that requires a warrant. His case was dismissed in 2012 though so it is still unclear what the actual ruling was in Abad's case.
On June 20 2013, Abad was driving on the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel when he hit a guardrail at 12:35 pm and he told the officer then that he had been cut off by a white pick-up truck. The diagram from the accident scene shows that he traveled across three lanes before striking the guardrail. Abad was unable to provide a license plate number for the vehicle he claimed was involved and his car had to be towed from the scene. He also was not cited or charged in relation to that accident.
Abad had an accident with the same 2011 BMW that he hit a parked car with in 2013. He was involved in an accident on August 19 2012 when he rear ended a 2007 Toyota which was stopped at a red light on North Wood Ave. He told the officer there that he was looking at his phone and had not noticed that the other car had stopped. He did receive a citation for careless driving then. Abad also had accidents on Dec 17 2008 in Linden and on August 16 2009 in Roselle but the details of those have not been reported yet.
Update March 31 2015:
The investigation into the deadly crash has been handed off from the Union County prosecutor's office and will now be handled by the Middlesex County prosecutor's office as of March 30th. They have stated that this has been done to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest in the investigation. They have added that there has been a warrant issued for the testing of Abad's blood for alcohol content but the results have not been released yet.
It has also been reported that the charges in Abad's Jan 22 2011 crash into a store were dismissed almost a year later because the defense was not given reports about the BAC testing and the tapes of the police transmissions that night as ordered by the court. The prosecution had strongly advised against dismissal stating that it was a very serious case. Abad's BAC in that accident had been tested at 0.176 which is more than double the 0.08 to be considered legally drunk.
His lawyer, Greggory Martoonian, filed a list of requests within a week of the arrest that included the kit that had been used to take the sample, a copy of the manual outlining the procedures used for analyzing the blood, recordings of the police transmissions that night and 12 months of service records for the machine that was used to test the BAC. Martoonian specializes in DUI cases and he certainly covered all of his bases in this case. He filed a motion to suppress the BAC five months after the accident claiming that the police had not gotten a warrant for it and the prosecution countered by stating that they did not need one.
The police did hand over 6 months of service records and stated that they did not have any further back. They also handed over 2 non sequential pages of the procedures and Martoonian told the court that he believed that there were pages missing. The case was dismissed on Jan 19 2012 when the judge had ruled that the police had not provided the information needed even though the court still had the BAC evidence of Abad being far over the limit for driving. There has been no comment from Martoonian or the presiding judge and I can understand why..... maybe if this case had not been dismissed so easily, two young men would still be alive.
Update April 2 2015:
The reports regarding the condition of both survivors state that Abad and Kudlac are still in critical condition but they are stable and making very slow progress. Kudlac is being treated at Staten Island University Hospital North and Abad is being treated at Richmond University Medical Center.
The AG office has spoken out about Abad's previous DUI that was dismissed and stated that they are not to blame for that case being dismissed. When one looks at what has been reported about that case, it would seem that Abad did get himself a very good lawyer who specializes in getting clients off, which is exactly what he did. Even though the accident involved crashing his car through the wall of a store and ended up almost completely inside of it and he had a BAC of 0.176, he managed to get the charge dismissed. I would think if this involved a minor accident where he drove over a mailbox and ended up a few feet on someone's lawn, it could be overlooked but this was a lot more serious than that.
The judge and his lawyer both have not made any statements in regards to that accident and it's handling. What can they say except that the lawyer did what he was paid to do and the judge for whatever reason, chose to ignore the facts that were presented and let Abad walk on any kind of DUI infraction or punishment. If it hadn't happened that way, Abad could very well have not had a license to be driving for this accident.
Update April 25 2015:
The police had obtained a warrant for blood testing of Abad's blood after the horrific crash and they have finally released their findings. The legal limit is .08 and Abad's BAC was .24 which is almost three times the legal limit. That is equivalent to a 140 pound man having about nine drinks in his system.
There has been no comment made on this from either the Staten Island District Attorney's office, the police department, Abad's lawyer or the Linden police union at this time. Abad has not been charged yet but reports state that a Staten Island grand jury will look at the evidence presented next week and decide if he should be charged. Abad is still listed as critical and is hospitalized but there is no further update as to the condition of Patrik Kudlac.
The Middlesex County prosecutor's office is handling the investigation into Abad's driving record and employment history. That investigation had been handed off to an outside department to prevent any conflict of interest perceptions.
Abad had his FB account filled with pictures of him making silly faces which probably were very funny at the time. If he does survive this crash though, he may well have a very different outlook on life and some of the choices he has seemed to have made in the past few years. There is no doubt that both his life and the life of his friend Patrik will never be the same after this crash.
In the big game of "what if" we can ask........ what if he hadn't been allowed to beat the first DUI charge? What if he had been punished more severely for the second DUI charge? What if he hadn't made the decision to get behind the wheel after he knew he had been drinking more than just one or two beers while having dinner? We may never know the answers to those questions but we can certainly see the outcome of them.