Determination of Cause in Fatal Crash
on the NJ Turnpike
Regarding fatal motor vehicle accident on August 14,
2006, New Jersey Turnpike, northbound express lanes in Teaneck,
Bergen County, New Jersey:
The investigation carried out by the New Jersey State Police in cooperation with the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office has been concluded and has revealed that the driver of the 1999 Western Star truck, Dimitrios Tseperkas, operated his vehicle in a careless manner, causing the deaths of Norma Ryan, Charles Christmas, Theresa Christmas and Victoria Christmas. Tseperkas has been issued a motor vehicle summons for Careless Driving, Title 39:4-97.
Members of the NJSP's Commercial Carrier Team inspected the 1999 Western Star truck and estimated that it was traveling approximately 70 mph prior to applying its brakes and left 138 feet of tire marks before impacting several vehicles that were stopped in traffic on the Turnpike. The inspection also revealed that four of the truck's ten brakes were beyond the re-adjustment limit according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The driver was cited for that violation with a summons for Title 49 CFR 396.3(a)1. However, this equipment violation is not considered to be a contributing factor in the crash. Rather, the collision was a direct result of driver inattentiveness.
Mr. Tseperkas was screened for the presence of narcotics and alcohol with negative results. There is no evidence that the load was being improperly or unlawfully transported. Further, the driver was found to be in compliance with hourly driving and working rules.
All aspects of the investigation were explored and reviewed with members of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office to determine the appropriate charges against Mr. Tseperkas. While the evidence demonstrates that he was careless and negligent in his conduct, it cannot be proven that his conduct was criminally reckless. Criminal recklessness is required to sustain an indictable charge. Recklessness requires proof that an actor consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk and that disregard of the risk was a gross deviation from the way reasonable persons would conduct themselves in the situation. It is widely known that the standard of proof with regard to criminal charges is "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
In the absence of other aggravating factors, such as drugs or alcohol, unusually excessive speed or fatigue, the negligent operation of a motor vehicle is not a criminal offense. In addition, a person's driving record is not admissible for prosecution and cannot legally factor in a charging decision. Therefore, it has been determined that the loss of the four innocent lives on August 14, 2006, while horrific and tragic, was not caused by a criminal act but by driver carelessness.
Accordingly, it has been determined by both the New Jersey State Police and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office that criminal charges will not be filed against Mr. Tseperkas. He has, however, been charged with careless driving and the previously mentioned equipment violation.
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