LINDEN, NJ — Based on the photographs of the wrong way car crash on the West Shore Expressway in Staten Island, it’s a miracle anyone came out alive. But Linden officials are holding their breath waiting for the return of the two police officers who managed to barely escape with their lives from the horrific wreck that took the life of a fellow police officer and civilian resident.
“We are a community in mourning, this is no time for criticism,” Mayor Derek Armstead told residents in a statement on the city website, asking for compassion, prayers and respect for the families and friends affected by the wrong way accident that still is being investigated by the New York Police Department.
Authorities said four men were in the 2014 Honda Civic headed from a Staten Island strip club shortly before 5 a.m. Friday morning when the vehicle, driven by Linden Police Officer Pedro Abad, 27, drove the wrong way down a service road leading to the expressway, crashing head-on into a tractor-trailer. Authorities have said the service road has red and white “Do Not Enter” signs flanking the entryway to the service road in addition to a one-way sign that is very visible.
The accident, which caused the vehicle to be completely crushed, left 28-year-old Linden Police Officer Frank Viggiano and Joseph Rodriguez, 28, dead. In critical but stable condition at two Staten Island hospitals was Abad and Linden Police Officer, Patrik Kudlac, 23.
Friday afternoon at a press conference, Linden Police Chief James Schulhafer struggled to keep his composure as officials responded to the tragic accident.
“We were all young once and I’m sure we’ve done stupid things in our life,” said the police chief, who pointed out there was an investigation going on by New York Police and it was “too premature to speculate on what caused the accident.”
Hours before the crash, at least three of the men gathered at Central Park, a Roselle bar, where Abad posted a picture on his Instagram page of three shot glasses filled with what he identified as “Jack Daniels Fire on the house.” The police officer also made a toast that all four find the happiness they were seeking, including families of their own.
Later, the three, joined by another friend, got into Abad’s Honda Civic and drove to Curves Gentleman’s Club, a strip club on Arthur Kill Road located in an industrial area of Staten Island. The strip club, according to information obtained by LocalSource, could be held civilly liable for the accident and those injured as a result.
New York is one of several states with a “dram shop” law on the books. This law makes a business that sells alcoholic drinks to someone who is obviously intoxicated liable if anyone is injured by a drunken patron, in a vehicle or out.
According to media reports, video taken by a surveillance camera at a gas station fronting the service road leading to the expressway, showed a car traveling the wrong way minutes before the crash on the adjacent highway. A southbound exit ramp leads from the expressway onto the service road. The timestamp, media reports said, showed 4:48 a.m. According to police reports, a 9-1-1 call reporting the accident came in at 4:51 a.m.
Capt. James Sarnicki said all three officers were new to the force, unmarried and without children. Viggiano was a five-year veteran of the Linden police force, while Abad had six years in and Kudlac two. Rodriguez, a former county employee who left in good standing, was awaiting an opening in the Roselle Police Department.
Meanwhile, stories about whether the four were drinking prior to the accident surfaced immediately after the accident. According to reports, New York Police Department investigators applied for a warrant to test Abad’s blood-alcohol level, but to date there has been no further information regarding how long it would take to get the results from this test.
Wednesday afternoon, as family and friends held a wake for Rodriguez at the Werson Funeral Home in Linden to mourn his death, news surfaced that Abad had been charged in 2013 for driving under the influence.
According to the Star Ledger, Abad, 27, had been charged with a DUI in Rahway after an accident in February 2013, but reportedly refused to take a chemical test. In October 2013 the city cop received two suspensions of his license and it was court-ordered that the Linden police officer have an interlocking device installed on his car for 180 days.
An interlocking device or breath alcohol ignition interlock drive is a mechanism like a breathalyzer that is installed on a vehicle’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver must exhale into the device and if the breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the programmed blood alcohol concentration, the device prevents the engine from starting.
According to the Ledger, Abad paid the fines imposed and his driving privileges were restored on May 14, 2014. Abad also received another violation for using a cell phone while driving in August of 2012 in Linden according to Motor Vehicle Commission records, the Ledger said.
Rodriguez’s funeral was held Wednesday at Saint Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church in Linden, with burial at St. Gertrude’s Cemetery in Colonia, while
Viggiano’s wake was held Wednesday at Werson Funeral Home, with funeral
services Thursday morning at the Linden Presbyterian Church and burial at Fairview Cemetery.