Officer killed, another injured in crash

September 6, 2008 6:10:50 PM PDT
A Belleville police officer is dead and another is seriously injured after their cruiser hit another vehicle right over the town's border in Nutley. The crash marked the third time in less than a month that a New Jersey police officer had been killed in a traffic accident.

Officer Kenneth Santucci was driving the cruiser when the crash occurred shortly before 8 a.m., just across the Nutley-Bellville border, Essex County Prosecutor Paula T. Dow said. Santucci then lost control of the car and it hit a utility pole, ejecting him and Officer Melissa Corrado.

Santucci, 33, of Belleville, was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later. He had served with the Newark police department before joining the Belleville force in January, and was the married father of two children, ages 2 and 7. His wife is expecting their third child in November.

Corrado, 28, of Hopactong, sustained serious head injuries and was taken to University Hospital in Newark, but Dow said her injuries were not considered life-threatening. The driver of the other vehicle, identified only as a 51-year-old female from Bloomfield, was treated at an area hospital and later released.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation Saturday night, and it was unclear whether the officers were wearing seatbelts.

Dow said the officers were responding to a suspicious persons call at the time of the crash, but further details were not disclosed. She said a grand jury would likely review the crash, which is standard procedure when an officer dies while on duty.

"It's horrific," Dow said of the crash. "It's a very congested state we live in. They have tough duties to respond to and these horrific things can happen."

Anthony Wieners, a Belleville officer and president of the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement that colleagues were devastated over Santucci's death.

"Three officers in such a short period of time has left us reeling. But we'll get through it as a group," Wieners said.

Saturday's crash came about two weeks after Perth Amboy police officer Thomas Raji, 31, was killed when a car broadsided his cruiser as he and another officer were transporting a prisoner to the Middlesex County jail. The other officer, Matthew Mercurio, 42, was injured in the Aug. 22 crash.

On Aug. 12, North Brunswick Lt. Christopher Zerby, 41, was killed in a crash there while riding in a rented Dodge Viper sports car driven by a fellow officer, Lt. Keith Buckley. The vehicle veered off Route 130, just south of Route 1, then struck a guardrail and utility pole.

The 40-year-old Buckley, an 18-year veteran of the force, was charged Friday with vehicular homicide.

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