Off-duty NJ State Police Sergeant Charged with DWI, Breath Test Refusal after Warren County Crash

Having worked both sides of the aisle as a former New Jersey municipal prosecutor and now as a drunken driving defense lawyer, I am always appalled whenever I hear of a law enforcement officer being arrested for any alleged crime. Not long ago, an off-duty sergeant of the New Jersey State Police was charged with DWI as well as refusal to submit to a breath test following a traffic accident in Warren County, NJ.

Over the years, I have worked closely with the police all across New Jersey, so I understand how much pressure their job can entail. However, as a DWI defense attorney I find it the height of hypocrisy when a police officer fails to live up to the standards that all citizens are expected to observe. In the recent case of this officer’s arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, the incident also involved a traffic accident with alleged injuries.

According to news reports at the time, the officer was suspended pending an investigation into the December 17 drunk driving-related two-vehicle crash on Route 517 north of Hackettstown. According to police reports, Sgt. Steve Pelligra, 45 was suspended without pay. Pelligra is assigned to state police at Hope Township.

Reports indicate that the off-duty officer, a resident of Sussex County, was driving a Nissan Frontier pickup north on Route 517 when his vehicle crashed into the driver’s side of a southbound 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix driven by Scott Lehnes of Vernon, NJ.

The crash occurred around 10pm near Johnson Road just north of the Route 517 interchange on Interstate 80. Police reports state that Pelligra apparently fled the scene following the crash. Reports at the time did not include information on the extent of injuries of either driver involved in the crash.

Nevertheless, police were able to identify the officer and when requested to take a breathalyzer test, he refused. Pelligra was reportedly with breath test refusal, leaving the scene of a crash and failing to report an injury accident. A person who is convicted for the first time of refusing to submit to a breath test faces a driver’s license suspension between seven months and one year.

N.J. officer suspended after off-duty DWI crash, PoliceOne.com, December 28, 2009

New Jersey state trooper drunk when he caused Allamuchy Twp. accident, police say, LehighValleyLive.com, December 24, 2009