NJ man in head-smashing crash says arresting cops should’ve taken him to ER
WESTFIELD — A Bridgewater man says he crashed his car into a utility pole and smashed his head into the windshield. But instead of taking him to an emergency room, he says cops kept him at a police station for hours.
Erik Salemke, 34, is now suing town police, claiming a violation of his civil rights and seeking compensation for permanent brain injuries.
Salemke was driving his girlfriend to a wedding on a Sunday afternoon in November 2015 when for some reason he swerved off the road, drove into a stop sign and crashed into a pole on West North Avenue, according to a police accident report.
Police suspected him of being intoxicated because he was having trouble staying awake and keeping his balance. Police also found several bottles of medication prescribed to Salemke in the vehicle.
Salemke’s lawsuit, which was filed October in Superior Court in Elizabeth, says he was seriously injured from hitting his head against the windshield.
His attorney Eric J. Warner, says Salemke had not been wearing a seatbelt and the impact left a small hole and cracks in the glass.
The police accident reports, which New Jersey 101.5 obtained through a public-records request, makes no mention of the windshield and says that an uncooperative Salemke declined medical attention, telling the rescue squad that he had been injured in a previous accident.
After his arrest, police administered a breathalyzer test, which turned up zero trace of alcohol in his system.
A urine test, however, later came back positive for traces of the anti-anxiety medication Alprazolam and the opioid pain medications Oxycodone and Tramadol. Police say he had prescriptions for all three medications.
In the car, police said they also found bottles for the anti-inflamatory drug Meloxican and the muscle relaxant Tizanidine, both of which had been prescribed to him as well.
The police report says Salemke’s girlfriend said he had taken some medication before leaving the house.
But in an interview this week, his attorney said Salemke had not taken any medication before driving and attributed his behavior at the accident scene to his head injury. Warner said police would not allow Salemke to get on an ambulance because they were interested in arresting him.
Town officials declined a New Jersey 101.5 request for video of the arrest, explaining that video of DWI stops are only saved for 720 days. Police officials also did not return a request seeking comment Thursday.
The lawsuit says police kept Salemke at the station for seven hours before he was released to his mother. Salemke did not get medical attention until he told his mother days later about hitting his head.
Warner says his client now suffers from memory problems and suffered a seizure after the accident. The lasting impact of the head injury has left him unable to make a living despite once running his own tiling and masonry business, his lawyer says.
“It doesn’t look like he is going to be able to engage in gainful employment again,” Warner said.
Police charged Salemke with driving under the influence, reckless driving, careless driving, improper display of license plates and being under the influence of drugs.
His girlfriend also was hit with a DWI charge because he was driving her car.
Warner says the charges against his client still have not been resolved.
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.