NJ Drunken Driving News: Ocean County Motorist Charged with DWI in Fatal Garden State Pkwy Crash

Fighting a drunken driving charge is serious business and should never be taken lightly. Guilty or innocent, anyone who has been charged with DWI or drug DUI (usually because of alleged impairment due to prescription medication) needs to understand that the financial and social implications of a drunk driving conviction can have long-term effects on an individual and his or her family.

Too many times, a defendant has stepped into a New Jersey courtroom without the aid of an experienced legal professional only to lose his case and be hit with heavy DWI-related fines and penalties. As New Jersey DWI and DUI defense lawyers, I and my staff know the ins and outs of the state’s legal system, and drunken driving law in particular. As a former municipal prosecutor myself, I have first-hand experience from the other side of the aisle regarding the methods and tactics of the state’s legal representatives.

As a cautionary note coming from one who knows the potential pitfalls of a poorly executed DWI defense, the last thing a defendant wants to have, in addition to an actual DWI arrest, is charges related to a fatal car crash allegedly occurring as a result of being impaired while operating a motor vehicle. Serious consequences can result from a conviction for negligent driving, vehicular assault, or manslaughter by motor vehicle.

According to news reports, an Ocean County, NJ, resident was recently indicted on the charge of vehicular homicide, as well as numerous other charges following a fatal car crash on the Garden State Parkway in Monmouth County last April. Based on police reports, 20-year-old Eric Pereira was allegedly intoxicated while using a cellphone and exceeding the posted speed limit when his vehicle rear-ended a van, which fatally injured a 43-year-old Middletown man.

Based on a joint investigation carried out by the NJ State Police and the Monmouth Co. Prosecutor’s Office, the April 2 crash occurred around 11am as Pereira was headed south in the local lanes of the Parkway at what police describe as a “high rate of speed.” According to reports, Pereira’s vehicle hit the victim’s van from behind, causing that vehicle to hit a nearby guardrail, flip over and slide into the Parkway’s express lanes.

Entering the express lanes, the van was hit by another vehicle, fatally injuring the victim, Kevin Donnelly, and causing injuries to the man’s fiancĂ©e, as well as her cousin Kenneth MacKenzie. The driver of the vehicle that hit Donnelly’s van, 49-year-old Keith Wegle, also received injuries as a result of the crash.

The police investigation that followed the fatal wreck showed that Pereira was allegedly driving with blood-alcohol content greater than the 0.08-percent legal limit. Police also contend that the defendant was speeding at the time of the fatal crash. Police reportedly arrested Pereira on April 25, charging the man with second-degree vehicular homicide and three counts of third-degree assault by auto. He was released by the court on $200,000 bail pending trial.

Should Pereira be convicted of the vehicular manslaughter charge, he could be looking at a maximum 10-year sentence in prison — 85 percent of which he would have to serve before becoming eligible for parole. If the defendant is convicted of the assault charge, he could face a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for each of the three counts.

On top of all this, but certainly secondary to the manslaughter and assault charges, Pereira also faces charges of operating an unregistered vehicle, operation of a motor vehicle while in possessing drugs; unsafe lane change; reckless driving; using a cellphone while driving; underage DWI; not to mention drunken driving. Needless to say, the defendant was required to give up his driver’s license following his arrest.

Parkway Fatality Yields DWI Indictment, RedBankGreen.com, September 12, 2011