DUI blamed in accident that killed officer

Mount Arlington officer Joseph Wargo

October 16, 2011 3:46:30 PM PDT
An out-of-control car crashed through the median and into the officer's vehicle on Interstate 80, killing him early Sunday.

The Mount Arlington police officer, 37-year-old Joseph Wargo, was killed just after midnight on the eastbound side of the highway in Roxbury, just past the Mount Arlington exit.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi says it appears Michael Cassella of Howel was travelling westbound, allegedly under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance and speeding when he lost control of his vehicle around 12:10 a.m. Sunday. The vehicle then slid across the median and entered the eastbound lanes, hitting Wargo's cruiser and knocking it off the highway and into a wooded area.

Cassella, 29, of Howell faces numerous charges - including aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide.

Authorities say Wargo, who was on duty at the time of the crash, served on the Mount Arlington force for more than 10 years.

Wargo was described as "a fun-loving guy with a heart of gold" and a dedicated officer who was president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 78.

"He would bust my chops and uncle's chops and be really funny, saying how expensive we were as a joke. He had this really great sense of humor," Keyur Patel, a friend, said. Though he loved his job in Mount Arlington, where the flags at both the police station and Elks Lodge now fly at half-staff, he lived in Stewartsville, New Jersey, about 50 miles away near the Pennsylvania border, where today his wife, friends and family were too broken up to talk.

"We've definitely lost someone very special and funny and someone who played a very big part in our community," Melissa Sanderson said.

Cassella was being held Sunday at the Morris County Jail on $500,000 cash bail. Officials did not know if he had retained an attorney.