ELIZABETH — A Union County grand jury has upgraded the charges against a Union Township man accused of killing a rookie Hillside cop in a high-speed drunk-driving crash in October.

Ricardo Dos-Santos, 29, was indicted this week on first-degree counts of manslaughter and vehicular homicide.

In January, prosecutors had charged the police officer's friend with less serious offenses.

One of the reasons for the upgraded charges is that the crash happened within 1,000 feet of a school.

The Oct. 15 crash on Routes 1&9 in Linden killed 30-year-old Giovanni Esposito, who had served on the police force for six months.

Vehicle involved in a crash on Route 1+9 in Linden
Vehicle involved in a crash on Route 1+9 in Linden (RLS Metro Breaking News)

Both men had left a strip club in Rahway and Dos-Santos got behind the wheel of an Acura RDX, which was registered to Esposito's mother.

Prosecutors said Dos-Santos' blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit and was driving 90 mph when the Acura RDX crashed into a truck that was stopped at a red light after 2 a.m.

The SUV rolled over and ejected both men, who were not wearing seat belts, investigators say.

Hillside officer Giovanni Esposito (Giovanni Esposito)
Hillside officer Giovanni Esposito (Giovanni Esposito)

When he was arrested nearly three months after the crash, prosecutors charged Dos-Santos with just second-degree vehicular homicide, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Dos-Santos now faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter.

Police also ticketed him with moving violations for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, careless driving, speeding, failure to observe a traffic signal, and failure to wear a seat belt.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.