VIDEO: Bizarre Route 22 chase ends with shooting in Mountainside driveway
MOUNTAINSIDE — Police dashcam and bodycam videos from a June 7 incident show that even a routine traffic stop can take unexpected and potentially deadly turns for a police officer.
A Union Township cop shot and wounded an unarmed 32-year-old Lester Krek in the driveway of a Mountainside home not long after Krek had led cops on a brief high-speed chase on Route 22. Krek crashed his truck on the highway and ran through the backyards of a residential neighborhood, hiding in bushes until he was caught in a dramatic confrontation with police.
Krek was charged with second-degree disarming a police officer, second-degree eluding police and third-degree resisting arrest.
The Union County Prosecutor's Office provided New Jersey 101.5 with hours of video recordings that captured the events from the initial traffic stop until Krek was led into an ambulance on a stretcher.
A condensed version of the recordings can be seen in the video above. Some audio was redacted by prosecutors to omit medical and investigatory information and by New Jersey 101.5 to censor profanity.
The video shows Krek, who had been hiding in tall bushes, sprinting toward a police sergeant who repeatedly tells him to stop.
Although the police sergeant later tells superiors that Krek had tried to disarm him, that is not clear from his body-worn camera, which does show the sergeant falling backward on the driveway as a frantic and crying Krek places himself within inches of the cop.
While on the ground, the officer fires a round. Within seconds, two officers arrive and try to subdue a resistant Krek with pepper spray and punches to the torso.
The incident begins with Union Township police pulling over Krek in his blue truck, which turns into a shopping center parking lot on Route 22.
Police spend nearly 10 minutes talking to Krek through his partially opened windows. Police tell Krek that his registration has expired and try to get him to get out of the vehicle. Krek, however, refuses and tells the officers that he fears for his safety.
Officers repeatedly tell Krek that he should not drive away but eventually Krek puts his truck in reverse and pulls out from between two police vehicles.
Krek heads west on Route 22 toward Mountainside with several Union police vehicles on his tail.
In one video, an officer can be heard saying into the radio that they were reaching speeds of 75 mph. After several seconds, however, the chase is called off.
Krek crashes his car in Mountainside. Video from the scene shows the truck with extensive front-end damage after an apparent collision with a road sign and a wooden post. Police on the scene say that a witness saw the driver flee up a residential street.
Bodycam videos show township officers jogging through the neighborhood, checking backyards and asking people whether they've seen a bearded white man wearing a green T-shirt.
While exploring a property on Larskpur Drive, the Union Township sergeant hears rustling in tall bushes and draws his gun.
"Let's see your hands!" the cop shouts.
"Please don't," Krek says as he emerges from the bushes and immediately runs at the officer.
The cop falls back and fires a shot. Krek sits on the driveway while sobbing. A plainclothes cop who had been at the traffic stop arrives and tries to get Krek to lie on his stomach.
Krek does not follow orders and another uniformed officer sprays Krek in the eyes.
The plainclothes cop jabs a bloodied Krek several times in the torso after he continues to resist the officers' efforts to pin him on the ground.
Within seconds, nearly a dozen Union, Mountainside and county officers are in the driveway, several of them holding down Krek as he is restrained.
Krek survived the shot to the torso. In the videos, the sergeant complains of an elbow injury from falling. Both were treated at University Hospital in Newark, prosecutors said.
Krek has no felony convictions in the state and he had no warrants for his arrest at the time of the traffic stop.
The shooting remains under investigation by the Union County Prosecutor's Office.
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.