Homicide Charges Dropped in New Jersey DWI Fatality Case

Family members of a pedestrian killed last summer in Belmar by a drunk driver have expressed their anger over the recent reduction in charges against the defendant in the case. Despite having struck and killed 22-year-old Christopher Nowak while driving drunk on New Jersey’s Route 35, Mark Rich of Neptune City, NJ, now faces only a driving while intoxicated charge that carries with it a $500 fine, a 30-day maximum jail sentence, and a one-year license suspension.

Last December, a grand jury turned down an indictment of vehicular homicide against Rich, 53, that would have called for a maximum of 10 years in prison. Upon the grand jury’s rejection of the indictment, the case was handed back to municipal court, where Rich pleaded guilty this past Wednesday to DWI. According to reports, the Belmar prosecutor in the case requested that the judge also dismiss the other charge of careless driving. This has enraged the victim’s family.

Any loss of life through an automobile accident is a tragic event, but the facts of this case make for a difficult defense, as well as prosecution. Being a New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney and former municipal prosecutor myself, I have been involved in cases that seemed clear cut on their face, but which had many grey areas.

The facts are quite damning for the defendant, who was admittedly drunk that fateful evening — having had three Bloody Marys before getting into his 2003 Corvette — with a 0.15-percent blood alcohol content (BAC), nearly double the legal limit. He also struck and killed the victim with his vehicle, and then drove with the poor man’s body lodged in his vehicle for nearly a mile, over the Route 35 bridge and into Neptune City, before stopping to call 911.

But, as the prosecutor indicated on Wednesday, the grand jury had good reason not to indict Rich on the vehicular homicide charge. This is because the victim was also impaired that evening. According to the police, Nowak was himself drunk, with a BAC of 0.26 percent. Medical reports show that he also had cocaine in his system. Finally, when Nowak was struck by Rich’s car, he was apparently standing in the middle of Route 35, a place no pedestrian should have been, according to the defendant’s lawyer.

Although Rich has pleaded guilty to the DWI charge, he no doubt will face a civil lawsuit from the victim’s family. It’s a tragic situation, but without a well-qualified legal professional at his side, the defendant could have faced a decade in prison. If you or a loved one has been charged with drunk driving, we urge you to call our offices at 877-450-8301 for a free, no-obligation initial consultation.

DWI plea not enough for family, APP.com, June 3, 2009