Officer will not be charged in collision that killed pedestrian, prosecutor says
Ocean County authorities have cleared a Lacey Township police officer of any wrongdoing following a July 5 crash that killed a 24-year-old pedestrian who they say was intoxicated when he attempted to cross the roadway as the cop was responding to a disturbance call.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said in a press release Thursday that Neil Van De Putte, 24, of Toms River, was intoxicated and attempting to cross the street against a red light when the fatal motor vehicle collision involving Lacey Township Police Officer Andrew Slota occurred. The report also states that the officer was "traveling at a high rate of speed" and did not have his emergency lights or siren activated prior to the collision.
Coronato said his office was involved in the investigation due to the Lacey officer being involved in the accident. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Major Crimes/Fatal Accident Investigation Unit was joined by Toms River Police Department Traffic Safety Division and the Ocean County Sheriff's Department CSI in investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident.
The prosecutor said that at 3:22 a.m. when the collision happened, Officer Slota was driving a marked Lacey police car "at a high rate of speed on Lacey Road while responding to a report of a disturbance at the security perimeter of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station."
Authorities say the officer had not activated the vehicle’s emergency lights or siren. The vehicle’s headlights were on, however. Van De Putte was crossing Lacey Road against the red light, when he was was struck in the roadway by Slota's vehicle. Coronato said the officer attempted to avoid hitting the man, but ended up striking him with the car. Van De Putte died of his injuries resulting from the collision.
"At the time of impact it is clear that Mr. Van De Putte, who was intoxicated, entered the roadway against a red traffic signal. Officer Slota proceeded into the intersection under a green traffic light. Mr. Van De Putte was accompanied by a friend, who observed the oncoming police vehicle and determined that he could not safely cross the roadway," the prosecutor said in a press release.
In addition, another driver who witnessed the crash confirmed that Slota had the green light and that the collision with Van De Putte was unavoidable.
According to a Sept. 25 NJ Advance Media article, the speed limit on the roadway was 45 mph. The article states that in the police report, Slota's car speedometer "was stuck at 59 mph after the crash." The article further states that the victim's mother, Yvonne Yaar-Sharkey, said authorities told her that Slota was driving 80 mph just before Van De Putte was struck.
Coronato said law enforcement officials looked at a number of factors during the investigation including: forensic analysis of crash scene evidence including laser scan "documenting pre-impact and post-impact trajectory of the police vehicle," damage analysis of the 2006 Ford Crown Victoria the officer was driving and the car's "black box" data and traffic control devices on the roadway. They also canvassed nearby businesses for any surveillance video and examined what the lighting and weather conditions were like at the time of the crash.
The investigation is being turned over to the Lacey Township Police Department so that Chief David Paprota can conduct an "internal review of the matter for any violations of departmental policy," the prosecutor said.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.