An off-duty NYPD officer driving the wrong way on the New York State Thruway collided with another vehicle, killing himself and the other driver, as the morning rush began Tuesday, backing up traffic for miles and stranding thousands of commuters, authorities said.
Officer Richard Christopher, 32, was killed in the 7 a.m. head-on collision that shut down two of three northbound lanes of the highway near Exit 15 in Suffern for hours, officials said.
Police say Christopher, of Suffern, was driving southbound in the northbound lanes and crashed into a Honda CRV being driven by 59-year-old James DeVito, of Airmont. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.
They had no passengers and no other drivers on the road were hurt. It wasn't clear why Christopher was driving the wrong way.
State police said Tuesday that toxicology tests to determine if drugs or alcohol were in his system were pending.
DeVito was on his way to work as a chef at Mount Saint Mary College, his family said.
Christopher's family said the officer, who was also an Army veteran, was headed to work at the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx, where he's served eight years on the force.
"This is the worst," said his mother Joan Christopher. "No one could replace him because he was something special."
Chopper 4 captured an extensive emergency presence at the scene as authorities worked to piece together the circumstances of the crash. Tires and shattered pieces of metal were strewn on the pavement, and the fronts of both vehicles involved in the crash were demolished.
The wrong-way crash is the third such wreck on area roads in the last month.
On July 16, a Bronx resident was charged with driving while intoxicated after a head-on, wrong-way crash on the Saw Mill River Parkway.
Days earlier, authorities say a Connecticut man drove the wrong way on Interstate 684 before being stopped by state police in North Salem. The charges against him include driving while intoxicated.