Investigators now believe road rage was the cause of a shootout a week and a half ago that nearly took the life of an off-duty Fairfield, New Jersey police officer, prosecutors said today.
Gerald Veneziano, 26, has been upgraded to fair condition after taking six bullets to his stomach and torso just moments before his shift was to begin.
But in a twist, NBCNewYork.com has learned exclusively that Officer Veneziano is no stranger to road rage. One source said "This was not the first time he asked for a license plate check" after complaining of being involved in a road rage incident.
A week and a half ago, Veneziano used his cell phone to ask a fellow on-duty officer if he had time to run a plate check. Because the officer was tied up doing something else, Veneziano never had a chance to actually give the plate number.
With his jaw wired shut, he has been able to respond in writing to investigators. Sources say he has not been able to remember what sparked the road rage confrontation.
But he does remember it happened when he got on Rt. 3 in Clifton on his way to work. Earlier he had described the trailing car as frequently flashing its lights as they drove toward Fairfield.
For the first time, we also learned Officer Veneziano actually made it into the police department parking lot. He then saw the other car had pulled into the parking lot of a next door warehouse, and that's when he drove over there to launch his own investigation.
After getting out of his car and, Veneziano has told intestigators that he identified himself as a police officer and the the lone occupant of the other car allegedly opened fire. Veneziano fired back, but it's not known if he hit either the gunman or the gunman's car.
He did tell investigators that it was a dark colored Dodge, likely a Nitro, Magnum or Caliber, and that he could remember the letter "W" on the plate. He also described the motorist as either a black or Hispanic male.
A $45,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.
Officer Veneziano's "common" history of calling in personal road rage encounters now has investigators wondering what happened that late Sunday afternoon, and leading one to speculate, dismally, that "We will never know who the aggressor was."