No IDs, reason for Montclair police chase yet released after crash kills two people
Two days after a police pursuit that started in Montclair ended with a deadly crash in Glen Ridge, authorities haven't yet released the names of those involved or said specifically why the pursuit began.
An investigation into the deaths is being conducted by the state Attorney General’s Office. The identities of the two men who died and a third injured individual were not released in an update from the office issued to media early Thursday morning.
The crash occurred shortly after 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 10 at the intersection of Bloomfield and Ridgewood avenues in Glen Ridge, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Two Montclair police officers were attempting to stop a vehicle in connection with a criminal investigation, the Attorney General's Office said. It didn't say what sort of matter the criminal investigation involved, but NBC New York Tuesday cited an unnamed law enforcement source saying the chase had been spurred by an armed robbery.
The officers activated lights on their marked patrol vehicles in an attempt to stop the vehicle, but the driver lost control, left the roadway, and struck a tree, the Attorney General's Office said.
Two individuals were pronounced deceased shortly after 9 a.m. A third individual is being treated for injuries, the office said.
The Attorney General’s Office conducts an investigation “of any 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 Attorney General's Office said in its update.
The Montclair Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office have referred all questions to the Attorney General’s Office.
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.
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.
The Asbury Park Press reported in 2019 that at least 23 fatal police pursuits over the previous decade had been prompted by traffic violations.
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.
A message to the Attorney General's Office Wednesday seeking more details on that 2018 crash, and the result of its review of the circumstances, hasn't yet been returned.
Montclair Local has submitted public records requests with multiple agencies seeking 911 call recordings, dashboard camera recordings, incident reports and other materials related to the chase, and is awaiting responses.