⚫ NJ man died in Parkway crash

⚫ Car was found three days before man

⚫ Family is suing State Police for wrongful death

Racism kills, even in unexpected ways, according to a lawsuit against State Police.

A grieving family from Ocean County says that a harmful stereotype of Black drivers prevented troopers from trying to find their injured son and save his life after his car crashed on the Garden State Parkway.

In a wrongful death discrimination lawsuit, the parents of David Kilasi have said their son was thrown from his uncle’s car in a crash along a wooded median in July 2022.

A trooper found the wrecked Honda Pilot and assumed, after running the pates and seeing that it was registered to a Black driver, that he had fled the scene.

The trooper had the vehicle towed without checking the vicinity.

In reality, Kilasi was lying with what an autposy showed to be a severed spinal cord about 50 feet away, where he was ultimately found dead three days later.

Ocean County arrest

⚫ Wrongful death lawsuit

Kenneth Luvai and his wife, Leah Kilasi, of Little Egg Harbor, they lived with their son, David, and his sister, Ruth.

They are seeking unspecified damages, including legal fees and a trial to consider the charges of wrongful death, negligence and discrimination against State Police and the specific trooper who discovered the fatal crash.

David Kilasi wrongful death suit (Fuggi Law firm, Smith Funeral home)
David Kilasi wrongful death suit (Fuggi Law firm)

⚫ Final day for David Kilasi

On July 9, 2022, according to the suit, David Kilasi drove his sister to a friend’s party using his uncle's 2003 Honda Pilot.

They returned home early the next morning but only Ruth Kilasi went inside. According to the lawsuit, her brother had been intensely speaking on the phone as they arrived and she later realized he had driven away after dropping her off.

It was the last time his family saw him alive.

Police determined that the Honda Pilot had struck a left-side guardrail along the Parkway, rolling down an embankment, overturning and hitting a tree, coming to a stop near mile marker 60.5.

A trooper found the Honda around noon on July 10 and assumed it had been abandoned.

He called to have it towed by a West Creek-based company.

But no search was mounted for any victims, according to the lawsuit, which said that the trooper ran the license plate and saw who it was registered to: Joseph Karanja, a Black driver.

Attorney Robert Fuggi says he believes that the trooper racially profiled the assumed driver, wrongly concluding that he had fled the scene to avoid getting in trouble for some unknown criminal offense.

State Police did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for information about the crash.

Over the next two days, calls to David Kilasi’s cell phone went straight to voicemail and his worried parents — not realizing there had been any car accident — assumed he was at a friend’s house.

Parkway (Canva, Townsquare Media)
(Canva, Townsquare Media)

Family alerted by insurance company

By July 12, the victim's uncle was called by his auto insurance company about his “abandoned” vehicle.

Karanja relayed that conversation to his relatives and Kilasi’s parents filed a missing persons report with Little Egg Harbor Police.

Luvai then called the towing company, who referred him to State Police at the Galloway barracks. A trooper told him that the Honda had been abandoned in the woods and that the driver may have taken an Uber to his destination, according to the lawsuit.

That day, the family drove up and down the Parkway, looking for signs of a crash, unknowingly driving past the yet undiscovered spot where their son still lay, according to the lawsuit.

(NJ State Police) Union Hunterdon County drug and guns bust
(NJ State Police)

⚫ 'Anger, horror and grief’

An officer from Little Egg Harbor checked with State Police, which said that there were no signs of ejection or blood around the vehicle.

A photo of the Pilot at the impound lot shows a considerably smashed windshield.

It was on July 13 that State Police detectives visited the Luvai-Kilasi household, confirming that the 22-year-old man had been found that day along the wooded median. The complaint does not say who exactly made the discovery.

An autopsy by the Ocean County Medical Examiner’s Office found evidence of a severed spinal cord injury but exposure to the elements and decomposition prevented other factors from being examined. The autopsy lists the day he died as the day his body was found, suggesting that he could have been alive after the crash.

Luvai, who works as a pastor at Lighthouse Bible Tabernacle in Elizabeth, viewed his son’s remains days later before funeral services at Smith Funeral Home in Elizabeth.

“There are no words to describe the mixture of anger, horror and grief Plaintiff Luvai felt in those moments, save to say that it will haunt him for the rest of his days,” the lawsuit says.

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