Driver survived crash that killed two in Montclair police chase, AG says
The two people who died in a single-vehicle crash during a chase by Montclair police officers in May were from Philadelphia, and the chase was related to a robbery investigation, the state Attorney General’s office said Thursday.
The driver of the crashed car survived, and was released after treatment in a nearby hospital; authorities haven’t yet described any charges against him.
Montclair police officers Michael Kupchack and Brandon Taylor attempted a motor vehicle stop of a vehicle driven by Philadelphia resident Todd Hill, 45, in connection with the robbery investigation, according to a press release by the Attorney General’s office. Gregory Dukes, 42, and Cecil Richardson, 47, both Philadelphia residents, were passengers in the car with Hill. Dukes and Richardson were both pronounced dead at the scene, after the car struck a tree, the AG’s office said.
Authorities hadn’t previously released the names of anyone involved in the crash or said what prompted the chase. Thursday’s release by the AG’s office was accompanied by dashboard camera, police radio and 911 call recordings. Montclair Local has also submitted a public records request seeking incident reports.
The state Attorney General is conducting an investigation, and does so for any “person’s death that occurs during an encounter with a law enforcement officer acting in the officer’s official capacity or while the decedent is in custody,” the office said in the release.
During the early morning of May 10, a man called 911 to report an armed robbery on Carey Court, as heard on a recording of the call released by the Attorney General’s office. In the recording, the man said he had been robbed of his wallet, suitcases and other belongings, and that he was pursuing the robbers, driving a silver Hyundai, by car.
In a police radio recording, an officer says he’s located the Hyundai on Maple Avenue.
Dashboard camera footage shows officers walking toward the vehicle Hill had been driving as it came to a stop at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue. But the vehicle turned on Bloomfield Avenue toward Glen Ridge and drove off.
Kupchack and Taylor activated lights on their marked patrol vehicles in an attempt to stop Hill, but Hill continued driving at speeds reaching 64 miles per hour, the release from the AG’s office says.
Around 4:30 a.m., approximately 22 seconds after Hill drove away from the attempted stop, he lost control of his vehicle on Bloomfield Avenue and Ridgewood Avenue, near the Glen Ridge train station, in Glen Ridge, according to the AG’s office.
Without coming into contact with any other car, Hill’s vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree, it said.
Kupchack and Taylor located Hill near the crashed car and he was transported to University Hospital, admitted for treatment and later released. Montclair Local sent the AG’s office a message Thursday afternoon seeking information about any charges against Hill and is awaiting a response.
Former Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in late 2020 had issued an update to the state's use of force policy, limiting the circumstances in which police could pursue vehicles — "significantly, both auto theft and most drug offenses have been removed from the list of crimes authorizing the initiation of a pursuit," the update noted. It did, however, allow police to pursue vehicles when occupants were suspected of first-degree crimes, or several second-degree crimes, including robbery. It also allowed police to pursue vehicles when they see substantial risks to the safety of the public or to officers.
But the policy broadly urges caution when initiating or continuing pursuits, noting the risks to public safety they can present.
"Deciding whether to pursue a motor vehicle is among the most critical decisions made by law enforcement officers," the policy states. "It is a decision which must be made quickly and under difficult, often unpredictable circumstances. In recognition of the potential risk to public and officer safety created by vehicular pursuits, no officer or supervisor shall be criticized or disciplined for a decision not to engage in a vehicular pursuit or to terminate an ongoing vehicular pursuit based on the risk involved, even in circumstances where this policy would permit the commencement or continuation of the pursuit."
But it continues: "Likewise, officers who conduct pursuits consistent with this policy will be strongly supported by the law enforcement community in any subsequent review of such actions.
On April 29, acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced that the state will once again allow police pursuits in the case of auto thefts, due to an increase in that crime across the state. Several news reports immediately after the crash noted that policy shift, though it wouldn’t have come into play for a robbery that didn’t involve an auto theft. On a 911 call recording, a dispatcher is heard asking if the robbers took a vehicle. The man’s answer is unclear.
In 2018, another police pursuit initiated by Montclair police ended with a deadly crash in Glen Ridge. The Essex County Prosecutor's Office said at the time officers had attempted a motor vehicle stop of a 2008 Mercedes, which then sped away. The chase ended in the area of High Street and Bloomfield Avenue in Glen Ridge, when the driver hit a light pole, and the car then hit a tree and burst into flames, authorities said at the time. The driver of the car, Galo G. Flores, 25, of Harrison, and passenger, Carlos Nieves, 20, of Newark, were pronounced dead at the scene at 10:17 p.m.
The Attorney General’s Office Thursday referred questions about any findings related to the 2018 crash to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Montclair Local has sent the prosecutor’s office a message seeking more details and is awaiting a response.