Their Parkway road-rage antics killed woman, now they’re in prison
Two men are spending six years in prison after a road rage incident in which they raced as fast as 100 mph on the Garden State Parkway, killing a 63-year-old woman after one brake-checked the other.
Thomas Vanderweit, 33, of Saddle Brook, and John Emili, 26, of New York, on Thursday lost their fight to overturn their convictions and prison sentences, which may leave them behind bars until December 2020.
Emili was driving his girlfriend and a Teaneck woman to a church servce on July 1, 2012, when his Honda Pilot cut off Vanderweit’s Chevy Trailblazer.
Vanderweit then chased Emili. Witnesses say both vehicles cut each other off and erratically weaved in and out of traffic before Vanderweit slammed on his brakes in front of Emili’s vehicle at Exit 168.
Emili lost control, hit a guardrail, spun into Venderweit’s car and flipped over several times. Emili’s passenger, Annetta Billingy, was ejected from the Honda and died.
Both men argued that their juries should not have been allowed to hear the statements they made to state troopers at the accident scene.
Emili told troopers that he had been going up to 100 mph because he was late for church.
Vanderweit said that the Honda had cut him off and that after he passed the Honda he had to brake “hard” in order to make the exit.
Their appeals argued that they had not been read their Miranda rights before they spoke to police.
The Fifth Amendment guards against self-incrimination. But the judges said Miranda warnings only apply after an arrest or when a suspect is prevented from leaving or is in some sort of custody.
The trial judge disallowed the men’s statements to troopers at the State Police barracks but allowed prosecutors to use their roadside statements.
“That finding was premised on additional findings of fact, which included that defendant was not under arrest, was not placed in handcuffs, and was not subject to coercive questioning. Instead, defendant simply was asked to explain what happened,” the appellate decision Thursday said in the Vanderweit appeal.
Even though they were not free to leave the scene because police were investigating an accident, the judge found “that under the totality of the circumstances, defendant's detention did not become the functional equivalent of an arrest,” the appellate decision in Emili’s case says.
Trooper testified that they initially did not believe they were investigating a crime scene. Both men were initially ticketed with reckless driving, racing and unsafe lane change. A grand jury later indicted them on second-degree vehicular homicide charges.
The appellate decisions also rejected Emili’s argument that the jury should have considered that Billingy was not wearing her seatbelt, and rejected Vanderweit’s argument that prosecutors did not prove that he slammed on his brakes.
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.
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