E. Brunswick 5 hours late telling prosecutor about fire chief’s fatal crash
EAST BRUNSWICK — Township police were five hours late notifying prosecutors about a serious crash involving the fire chief's vehicle that resulted in the deaths of an elderly couple.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey issued a statement on Monday critical of East Brunswick police because a "mandatory timely notification" was not made to his office about the crash in the area of Gunia Street at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Carey's office has a policy requiring police to immediately notify prosecutors about fatal and serious crashes involving official vehicles.
But the township mayor said the delay was not an attempt at a cover-up or to ignore policy, just that first responders did not realize the extent of the couple's injuries and believed that they would survive and recover.
“I think my police acted in accordance with the information that was provided to them at the time," Mayor Brad Cohen said Tuesday. "They were not told by medical professionals at the scene of the accident there was any concern or expectation that there would be a fatal consequence to the accident."
Police did not call prosecutors until 12:30 a.m., after the two people in the car that the fire chief struck during an emergency call had died.
Carey did not disclose details about the crash or the identity of the couple pending notification of family.
The East Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company told New Jersey 101.5 on Monday that volunteer Chief Andrew Drozdowski was driving and that he has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
Drozdowski has not been charged with a crime. A drug and alcohol test was conducted by an outside agency on Drozdowski at the scene, according to Cohen.
Cohen told New Jersey 101.5 the couple was making a left turn onto Old Bridge Turnpike out of a shopping plaza when they were hit by the fire chief's vehicle, which he said had its lights and sirens on as it was en route to assist with a gas leak at a Sayreville apartment complex.
Cohen did not know the make and model of Drozdowski's vehicle but said it was not a fire truck.
The husband and wife, both in their 80s, were still alert when they were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Cohen said.
Their injuries were far more serious than first responders first realized and one of the spouses died at 10:30 p.m., followed by the other, according to Cohen. Police learned about the deaths at 12:30 a.m.
"At that time, police did what was appropriate and contacted the Prosecutor's Office at that time. My understanding is that they did absolutely nothing wrong," Cohen said.
The Prosecutor's Office policy, however, states that they should have been notified by the fire department after the crash, spokeswoman Andrea Boulton said Tuesday.
“There is a Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Directive to law enforcement agencies which requires immediate notification to the Prosecutor’s Office by the primary agency for all motor vehicle crashes that result in death or serious bodily injury that is likely to be the imminent primary cause of death," Boulton explained. "So when there’s a really serious fatal crash or a near fatal crash we’re supposed to be notified. And we were not notified in a timely manor."
Other county prosecutors have similar policies. In Monmouth County, for example, a police notification about a serious crash involving an official vehicle triggers a response by the county Serious Collision Analysis Response Team.
Cohen said Tuesday that police "acted accordingly" based on the information they had at the time.
"It was a complete surprise when we found out this ended up as a fatality," Cohen said. "As long as it was not a fatal accident, near-fatal accident or expectation of a fatality, they are not required to call the prosecutor’s office. Period."
East Brunswick police Chief Frank LoSacco, who took the position on Aug. 1 after 31 years on the force, ordered his department's Office of Professional Standards to "review our internal handling of the crash to identify any policy or procedure changes that may need to be addressed concerning issues that were raised." They have been given a week to produce a report.
"I will ensure that any changes necessary are made so that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office continues to receive the full cooperation of our agency," LoSacco said.