GUILTY: Former NJ cop faces 25 years in prison for killing 2 in drunken crash
NEW YORK — A former Linden police officer faces up to 25 years in prison after a jury in Staten Island found him guilty of killing two men in a drunken wrong-way crash in 2015.
Pedro Abad, 29, was convicted Thursday of aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Abbad never testified, but became known during his trial last month for uttering bizarre statements and Bible verses to reporters outside the courthouse.
The March 2015 crash on West Shore Expressway in Staten Island killed two passengers in Abad's car: Fellow officer Officer Frank Viggiano, 28, and Linden resident Joseph Rodriguez, 28. Another officer, Patrik Kudlac, 25, was seriously injured and had to retire.
The friends had spent the night drinking at a bar and a strip club.
Investigators said Abad was driving 73 mph the wrong way when he crashed into a truck. Prosecutors say his blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, Abad's attorney called the crash a tragedy and a horrific accident that was "not caused by intoxication."
Last year, his attorney had offered the theory that Abad might have been drugged against his will, but no evidence of a date-rape drug was found after his blood was tested.
Linden's police chief of Thursday offered his condolences to the victims' families.
"Frank and Joe were taken from us too soon, and while these proceedings may be behind us, there is no verdict that can take away the emptiness and pain we feel," Chief Jonathan Parham said in a statement.
"We continue to pray for the Viggiano and Rodriguez families, and hope that all of those effected by this tragedy can find some closure in this decision as they continue to cope with this loss."
Mayor Derek Armstead said, “I hope this brings closure to a very sad chapter in our city’s history.”
The fatal crash brought public shame and outside oversight to the department.
An investigation by prosecutors in neighboring Middlesex County found that the department was lax in disciplining Abad after his previous DWI arrests, including a 2011 arrest after he crashed through a building in Roselle and a 2013 DWI arrest in Rahway.
After the investigation, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office last year took over the department's internal affairs unit, which is tasked with investigating wrongdoing by officers. The acting prosecutor also required all police departments in the county to notify her office whenever an officer is arrested or charged with DWI or for any minor offenses.
Abad rejected a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for 21 years.
Abad, who had been free on bail, was jailed Thursday until his sentencing scheduled for June 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.