LINDEN, NJ — The Linden off-duty police officer involved in a wrong-way crash on Staten Island in March that killed two and injured a third had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.
According to Richmond County Assistant District Attorney Daniel Master, 27-year-old Pedro Abad, who had two previous DUI charges — one conviction — and eight vehicle accidents on his record since 2005, had a blood alcohol level of .24, three times the legal limit of .08 in New York.
Staten Island authorities did not elaborate on what possible charges might be levied against Abad at this point, and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. has not decided whether or not to present evidence of the Abad’s blood alcohol level and the accident to a grand jury.
The New York Times reported Monday that authorities said Abad’s medical condition, and that of any potential witnesses, were prime factors in the timing of such a decision going forward. Both Abad and a fellow Linden police officer Patric Kudlac were critically injured in the deadly crash and remain in Staten Island hospitals in critical but stable condition since March 20. Linden Police Officer Frank Viggiano, 28, and Joseph Rodriguez, 28, both died in the accident.
Abad, a six-year veteran of the Linden Police Department who earns $92,416 annually, could face conviction for vehicular manslaughter or homicide because of the two deaths involved.
New York has some of the toughest laws in the country, especially when it comes to driving under the influence. Although a first offense DUI is considered a misdemeanor offense under New York law, it does carry hefty penalties if a death is involved.
While it is unclear whether Abad’s previous New Jersey DUI conviction will be considered if he is charged with vehicular manslaughter, there is a possibility he could serve jail time. New York authorities said the four men were headed back to New Jersey from a Staten Island strip club shortly before 5 a.m. on March 20 when Abad turned the wrong way onto a service road leading to the expressway. Less than two minutes later the black Honda Civic Abad was allegedly driving slammed head-on into an 18-wheel truck, completely destroying the Civic, killing Viggiano and Rodriguez.
Abad and fellow city police officer Kudlac, 23, were left in critical condition as a result of the horrific accident and remained hospitalized in Staten Island at press time. Little is known about their injuries other than their status was changed to critical but stable condition two weeks ago.
After the accident Mayor Derek Armstead said the Union County Prosecutor’s Office would undertake an investigation of how the city police department handled Abad’s DUI and driving record, however that quickly changed.
After preliminary review, the office of the attorney general and the Union County Prosecutor’s office decided the matter should be conducted by another county prosecutor to avoid any possible conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest. That investigation of Abad’s driving and employment history was handed over to Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, who as of yet has not spoke about the status of the ongoing investigation or when it might be completed.
Immediately after the accident questions surfaced regarding the Linden Police Department’s knowledge of Abad’s DUI history and whether his superiors were aware of his driving and accident record, but Linden police authorities have evaded the issue.
“We would not necessarily be notified if an officer had an off-duty accident unless there was a charge filed against him,” said Linden Police Capt. James Sarnicki, making it very clear to the media the day after the accident that the officer involved would be required to notify the department and an internal investigation of the incident would take place as a result.
Subsequently, it was discovered that Abad not only was involved in a total of eight vehicle accidents since 2005, but also was arrested on two DUI’s, one in 2011 when he crashed into a small supermarket in Roselle and another in 2013 when he crashed into a parked car in Rahway.
The 2011 DUI was dismissed by a Roselle judge because state police did not submit all the required evidence requested by Abad’s attorney. However, in 2013, when the Linden cop hit a parked car in Rahway, his license was suspended for seven months and he was court-ordered to have an interlocking-device installed on his vehicle for 180 days after his license was restored in May 2014. At issue is how Abad managed to remain a member of the Linden Police force despite his driving record and conviction of a DUI.
After this information surfaced in the press, Linden officials clammed up, saying only that they would not be making any statements until after the New York Police finish their investigation of the fatal accident.
Prior to this, though, Sarnicki said he welcomed any investigation into the department and handling of internal matters involving personnel.
LocalSource used the Open Public Records Act to obtain the Linden Police Department Internal Affairs Policies and Procedures, which shed light on whether the department actually would have been informed about Abad’s DUI’s.
According to the 20-page manual, the policy of the department is to accept and investigate “all complaints” of an alleged officer and employee misconduct. The policy and procedures manual did stress that officers and employees, regardless of rank, “shall be subject to disciplinary action.”
Clearly stated at the beginning of the policy and procedures manual was the city police department’s stance on garnering public trust.
“In order for a police department to be able to effectively carry out its mission it must have the public trust and confidence. For this reason and in consideration of the awesome authority that a police department has over its citizens, the ability of any such agency to effectively investigate the conduct of its officers and employees is of critical importance.”
The manual also noted that if an employee is a hazard to any person if permitted to remain on the job, “an immediate suspension is necessary to maintain safety, health, order or effective direction of public services.”
The internal affairs policy and procedures manual did have information relating to “criminal or motor vehicle complaints,” specifically driving while intoxicated. The manual said police officers “must make immediate notification to the on-duty commander at police headquarters setting forth the circumstances surrounding the complaint.”
From there the on-shift commander is expected to promptly notify the Internal Affairs supervisor and a written report would have been submitted.
According to the manual, Abad also was responsible for providing Internal Affairs superiors with a written report of any arrests, including DUI’s or vehicle accidents, “by the next regular business day.” At this point Internal Affairs personnel would make a decision whether to notify the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. Internal Affairs is then required to “track the proceedings of any criminal or civil matters” police officers become involved in as a result of a DUI or any other infraction of law.
While this puts the burden on both Abad and his superiors, it would seem that if this police officer was unable to use a police cruiser for seven months, his superiors would have had reason to question what was going on.
Throwing yet another hook into the city’s stance is that the city is a member of the Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, or JIF, a property casualty fund. Formed in 2001, JIF services 35 state municipalities with a risk management program that helps maintain financial stability. Police chiefs in Union County pointed out that municipalities in JIF, which includes Linden, must provide annual proof of a police officer’s driving record from Trenton. This information is provided to JIF to ensure that they are not on the suspended list or have outstanding driving violations, such as a DUI.
One police chief said that it would be nearly impossible for Linden superior officers to not know about Abad’s DUI because his driving record would clearly show this information.
“JIF requires that we hand this information in every year,” said one police chief, adding that the one question he would have is why JIF never said anything about Abad having a DUI and suspended license, not to mention eight prior accidents.
“That would send up an alarm, for sure,” said the police chief.