NEWARK — A one-eyed bandit from Newark celebrated his Fourth of July birthday by taking a city firefighting vehicle on a joyride, crashing it 20 miles away after leading police on a chase, officials said.

While firefighters were dealing with a car fire at Avon and Peshine avenues, Hector Perez, 47, jumped into a Newark Fire Division vehicle and sped away about 4:10 p.m., police said.

Police from surrounding communities kept an eye out for Perez, spotting him in Fairview and eventually Ridgefield Park, officials said.

Perez was caught after he drove onto a dead-end road and crashed at 200 Industrial Way. Police said he was not injured.

“This suspect put not only his own life in danger, but jeopardized the lives of countless drivers and pedestrians citywide and outside of Newark by unlawfully operating a public safety vehicle,” Newark Public Safety Director Brian A. O’Hara said Monday in a written statement. “I am grateful that he was apprehended before he harmed anyone or himself.”

Perez has been charged with aggravated assault, theft, burglary, eluding and possession of a weapon.

Perez has a criminal record that includes convictions for robbery, burglary, resisting arrest and jailbreaking.

He's already been locked up this year. Essex County jail records show he had been released from that facility in May.

New Jersey 101.5 did not know Monday whether Perez had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Sergio Bichao is the digital managing editor of New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-775-9793 or email

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