A New Jersey man was indicted in connection with the alcohol-fueled wreck that killed an off-duty Hillside cop who was one of his passengers last October, according to prosecutors.
A grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Ricardo Dos-Santos, 29, on charges of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree vehicular homicide related to the death of 30-year-old Giovanni Esposito, acting Union County Prosecutor Jennifer Davenport announced Wednesday.
According to prosecutors, at approximately 2:15 a.m. Oct. 15, 2018, members of the Linden Police Department responded to the area of U.S. Routes 1&9 and Pleasant Street after receiving a report of a serious motor vehicle crash.
When police arrived they found Dos-Santos and Esposito suffering from serious injuries at the scene, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Armando Suarez.
Both men were transported to University Hospital in Newark, where Esposito was pronounced dead shortly after arriving, Suarez said. Dos-Santos was released two days later.
Hundreds of relatives, friends, police officers and other members of the community gathered to remember Esposito at a funeral shortly after his death. Chief Vincent Ricciardi previously said Esposito had graduated from the Essex Police Academy at the top of his class and served as class commander there.
Although a family member encouraged him to join the fire department before he took the police exam, Esposito ultimately decided to stick with the police department, Ricciardi said.
"He decided wanted to protect others from harm and keep our streets safe," Ricciardi said. "That heart of gold was obvious to the entire police department."
He also cited the officer's "enthusiasm, diligence and compassion" while on duty.
A joint investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force and the Linden Police Department Traffic Bureau allegedly revealed that Dos-Santos’s blood-alcohol level was nearly triple the legal limit of 0.08 about an hour after the Acura SUV he was driving collided with the rear portion of a commercial truck that had been stopped at a red light.
The investigation allegedly determined that the SUV was traveling at an estimated 90 mph at the time of impact.
Dos-Santos was subsequently arrested and charged in January. He was also cited for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, careless driving, speeding, failure to observe a traffic signal, and failure to wear a seat belt, prosecutors say.
Attorney information for Dos-Santos was not immediately known.
If convicted, aggravated manslaughter charges are commonly punishable by 10 to 30 years in state prison, while convictions on first-degree vehicular homicide can result in terms of 10 to 20 years, prosecutors say.