Left victim on road ‘like an animal,’ but gets chance to clear record
A college professor who ran over a man who had been changing his tire and then drove away without calling for help after stopping to pick up a piece of her car, has a new chance at walking away from the crime with no convictions on her record.
Essex County prosecutors blocked Usha Govindarajulu from entering the court's pre-trial intervention program, which allows first-time offenders to avoid prison sentences and permanent criminal records for certain low-level crimes.
In objecting to the PTI admission, the prosecutor said Govindarajulu left the victim on the side of the road "like an animal."
But an appellate decision this week ordered prosecutors to review Govindarajulu's application without "applying any presumption against enrollment" like they did before.
Govindarajulu, now 46, was sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to third-degree endangering an impaired, helpless person, and third-degree leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injured.
Prosecutors say she ran over the man on the Garden State Parkway in April 2015. After realizing she hit the man, police say she stopped to check on him, picked up a piece of the mirror that had broken off of her rental car, and drove away.
After being identified as the driver involved in the incident, a grand jury indicted her on charges of fourth-degree aggravated assault by auto, fourth-degree hindering apprehension, third-degree endangering an injured victim, and third-degree leaving the scene of an accident.
Govindarajulu applied for pre-trial intervention and was recommended for the program by the criminal division manager. The recommendation was objected to by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office based on several factors, including that the man she struck wanted to see the case prosecuted and the violent nature of Govindarajulu's actions.
In her appeal, Govindarajulu called the prosecutor's objection to her entering the PTI program "a patent and gross abuse of discretion."
The criminal division manager noted at the time of recommendation that Govindarajulu had a doctorate degree, had no prior criminal record and was employed as a professor at a state university in New York.
While acknowledging that people charged with third and fourth-degree crimes with no prior record "might indeed be an appropriate candidate for rehabilitation and the PTI program," the prosecutor's office said that was not the case for Govindarajulu "given the violent nature and circumstances of this aggravated assault," which resulted in a seriously injured victim.
Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Tara Creegan noted that when Govindarajulu checked on the man she could clearly see he was in pain, according to NJ.com coverage of a hearing.
"She touched his leg. She touched his leg," Creegan was quoted as saying.
The man suffered multiple fractures and almost lost his foot, officials said.
After having her application for PTI denied by the court, Govindarajulu accepted a plea deal.
In granting Govindarajulu another opportunity to apply for PTI, the appellate decision explained that the prosecutor "never identified the charge that she considered to be a crime of violence that warranted the imposition of the presumption against enrollment."
The appellate judges said none of the offenses she was charged with "rose to the level of deliberately committed crimes of violence."
Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor's Office, told New Jersey 101.5 that "we are reviewing the decision to determine what action we will take."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com