Alcohol use probed in wrong-way crash that killed 2, including Linden cop
LINDEN, N.J. (AP) -- Two New Jersey police officers injured in a wrong-way crash in New York City that killed another officer and an acquaintance remained hospitalized in critical condition on Saturday, officials said.
Investigators have applied for a warrant to test the driver's blood-alcohol level following the crash early Friday on the West Shore Expressway in Staten Island. But a New York Police Department spokesman said Saturday that he did not know if the warrant had been approved or executed.
Authorities said the four men were headed home from a strip club when their car drove the wrong way down the highway and crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer. The officers were off-duty at the time.
Pedro Abad, 27, who was driving the car, and Patrik Kudlac, 23, were in critical condition at hospitals on Staten Island. Both men are officers with the Linden police department.
Another Linden officer, 28-year-old Frank Viggiano, and the officers' friend, 28-year-old Joe Rodriguez, were killed in the crash. The truck driver suffered injuries that weren't believed to be life-threatening.
Hours before the crash, Abad had posted a photo on his Instagram page of three shot glasses filled with what he identified as "Jack Daniels Fire on the house."
"We were all young once and I'm sure we've all done stupid things in our life," said Linden Police Chief James Schulhafer. "But that being said, because this is an ongoing investigation, it would be way too premature to speculate on what caused this accident."
The dead were identified as 28-year-old Linden Officer Frank Viggiano and 28-year-old Joe Rodriguez, a former county employee. Both were passengers in the car.
The 27-year-old driver, Pedro Abad, and 23-year-old passenger Patrik Kudlac, also Linden police officers, were listed in critical condition at hospitals on Staten Island. Linden police Capt. James Sarnicki said they have severe and extensive injuries and are fighting for their lives.
Abad's blood has been drawn, and investigators have applied for a warrant to test his blood-alcohol level, the New York Police Department said.
The truck driver suffered injuries that weren't believed to be life-threatening.
Video taken by a surveillance camera at a gas station shows a car traveling the wrong way on a service road minutes before the wrong-way crash on the adjacent highway. A southbound exit ramp leads from the highway onto the service road. The time stamp on the video showing the car reads 4:48 a.m. Police received a 911 call of a crash on the highway at 4:51 a.m.
One tractor-trailer swerved out of the way of the car on the West Shore Expressway on Staten Island, but a second didn't have enough time to veer away before the crash, Royster said.
Sarnicki said all three officers were relatively new to the force and were unmarried without children. Viggiano was a five-year veteran, Abad was a six-year veteran and Kudlac had two years on the job.
"At this point our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Officer Frank Viggiano," he said, describing him as well-liked by everybody. "This is an unspeakable tragedy."
Rodriguez's father, Angelo, called his son "my pal" in an interview with The Associated Press at the family's home in Linden. He said they planned to go trout fishing in two weeks.
He described his son as well-spoken, well-mannered and always willing to help people. He said his son loved basketball and fishing and had lots of friends.
Rodriguez didn't seem angry at the driver, saying that "it doesn't matter if the driver was drinking because accidents happen." At times, he broke into tears.
"I'm still in shock," he said. "He ain't coming home no more."
Joe's uncle, Joseph Simone, described him as family-oriented.
"He was too young," Simone said. "He was too young. I was with him yesterday and he's gone today."
Abad posted a photo of the drinks on his Instagram page before the crash that included a caption of a toast he said he had given.
"The 3 of us, are decent people. There's a decent woman out there for each of us. Sure it's cool to be single every now and then, but I don't give a damn what ANYONE says. At the end of the day, I want a family. I want to settle down. We all do. So here's to finding that which we all hope for."
Other images on his Instagram page include photos of him serving in the honor guard at the funeral last weekend for a Philadelphia police officer killed in the line of duty.
In his 37 years working for the department, Sarnicki said, he couldn't remember any officers being killed in the blue-collar refinery town of 41,000 residents just across the water from Staten Island.
"People are in a somber mood. I could see some officers with tears in their eyes. It is an emotional day for all of us. Like I said, we are a family and we're all hurt by this," he said. "It's tragic for people to lose their lives at such an early age, whatever the reason."
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