Two people were hit and killed by a police car early Wednesday as they were walking along the New Jersey Turnpike after their SUV broke down, according to the New Jersey State Police.
Jason Champion of Brooklyn and Nuwanah Laroche of Queens were both hit by a Washington Township Police car while they were walking in the left lanes of the turnpike's eastern spur near a service plaza in Ridgefield at about 1 a.m., the state police say. Both were pronounced dead about three hours later.
Police say that Champion, 41, and Laroche, 34, were on the soutbound side of the highway in a 2001 Cadillac Escalade when they vehicle broke down. They crossed five lanes of the road to the northbound side and began walking in the left lane. They had walked to mile marker 115 when they were hit by the police car, which was driven by 46-year-old Arsenio Pecora.
State police say that Pecora was returning from a training exercise at Fort Dix when he hit the two pedestrians. He sustained minor injuries and hasn't been charged with any crimes.
Chopper 4 was over the scene as his squad car was towed away; the front bumper appeared heavily damaged and the windshield was smashed.
Laroche was a secretary for AIG. A relative at her Queens home asked for privacy for the grieving family.
Police chaplain Father Thomas Norton, who was visiting the officer's home Wednesday, said Pecora was traumatized.
"He's very dedicated not only to his work but he's PBA president, and he's a very popular and very talented young man, highly regarded by the other officers. So it's sad," said Norton.
The crash shut down all northbound lanes, causing major delays throughout the early morning hours. All lanes reopened later.
-- Tracie Strahan and Pat Battle contributed to this report.