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N.J. man killed, 2 seriously hurt when car collides head-on with tow truck "UPDATED 02.12.23"


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A 43-year-old New Jersey man was killed and two passengers in his car seriously injured Monday night when he collided head-on with a tow truck in Sussex County, officials said.


James Ziniewicz, of Newton, was pronounced dead following the crash around 10:30 p.m. on Route 94 in Lafayette, according to New Jersey State Police.


Ziniewicz was driving north near milepost 28.2 when a southbound tow truck crossed over the center line and slammed into his vehicle.


Two passengers in the car - a 31-year-old Newton woman and a 33-year-old Hamburg man - were brought to Morristown Medical Center with serious injuries.


The 29-year-old Newton man driving the tow truck suffered minor injuries.


No summonses have been issued, though the crash remains under investigation.



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  • 5 months later...

Drug court sought for driver in double-fatal crash

SUPERIOR COURT ‚ÄĒ On the advice of his attorney, a Hampton man who was allegedly high on drugs when his tow truck struck a vehicle, causing the death of two, has applied for the drug court program to resolve the charges against him.


Joseph Crilley, 29, who has been incarcerated since his Sept. 17 arrest stemming from the Aug. 5 crash on Route 15, appeared in front of Judge Thomas J. Critchley Monday with his attorney, Nicole Rizzolo. Crilley entered a not guilty plea to a six-count indictment where he is facing charges including two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide.


Assistant Prosecutor Sahil Kabse, in response to Crilley‚Äôs application for the program said, ‚ÄúSo the record‚Äôs clear, the State objects to Mr. Crilley‚Äôs admission into drug court for these serious charges.‚ÄĚ


The drug court program is for adults charged with a crime that has a presumption of incarceration, offering them an alternative to jail that focuses on rigorous treatment and rehabilitation. The term often runs from 12 months to five years.


A formal plea offer has not been provided, but Kabse said he will do so in writing by Crilley’s next court hearing in February.


Rizzolo, who indicated she hopes Crilley‚Äôs application for the drug court program can be ‚Äúreviewed and resolved‚ÄĚ by the next hearing, also provided the court with a document from the Morris County Sheriff‚Äôs Office, indicating that Crilley has been placed in the Hope Wing in the Morris County Jail. The unit provides substance abuse services for inmates.


‚ÄúWhat I am asking Your Honor to do is he be released into, pending the review of his drug court application, he be released into treatment,‚ÄĚ Rizzolo said.


Rizzolo said she is sorting through nearly 500 pages of discovery and is awaiting a copy of Crilley’s recorded statement he gave to police following the crash.


Kabse said he intends on bringing in a doctor as an expert witness to ‚Äúshow the impact drugs have on the system.‚ÄĚ


Blood and urine samples taken from Crilley following the 10:30 p.m. crash indicated he had fentanyl, norfentanyl ‚ÄĒ a metabolite of fentanyl ‚ÄĒ alprazolm (Xanax) and morphine in his system, according to police. Crilley was additionally indicted on three counts of third-degree possession, one each for having six wax folds of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine.


Authorities say Crilley, who was towing two vehicles on a tow truck, traveled over the double yellow lines and struck a Honda Civic hatchback. Crilley has previously argued that the 2012 Isuzu truck’s braking system failed, but an inspection found the brakes to be in working order, authorities said.


The driver of the Honda, James Ziniewicz, 43, of Newton, died at the scene. A back-seat passenger, Bassirou Diate, 33, of Hamburg, died 26 days after the crash due to his injuries, police said. A fourth-degree assault by auto charge stems from serious injuries another passenger, Alisha Jackson, 31, of Newton, suffered to her face, hip and leg. Kabse indicated in court Jackson lost an eye.


Crilley, who was on pretrial release conditions out of Passaic County for drug-related charges, has already completed the drug court program in Morris County for prior charges.


He is expected to appear back in court on Feb. 10.


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  • 8 months later...

The mother of one of the victims in a Lafayette crash that killed two people and seriously injured a third has filed a wrongful death suit against the tow truck driver who authorities say was high on drugs when he veered into oncoming traffic on Route 15.


The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 25 in Sussex County Superior Court by the estate of James Ziniewicz of Newton, says Joseph Crilley drove a tow truck "negligently, carelessly and recklessly" the evening of Aug. 5, 2019 when he crashed into Ziniewicz's Honda Civic hatchback. Ziniewicz, 43, was pronounced dead at the scene.


Crilley, who lives in Hampton, was arrested 43 days after the crash following the return of toxicology reports that authorities say discovered fentanyl, Xanax, heroin and morphine in his system. Police at the scene said they found multiple wax folds and a glass smoking device inside Crilley's truck.


The suit seeks unspecified damages from Crilley and the tow truck company, West Jersey Enterprise, which operates as Hayden's Service Center/Towing in Sparta. It also names the company's president, Christopher Hayden, and vice president, William Kehoe.


Attorneys representing West Jersey Enterprise did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No attorney is listed for Crilley, who previously lived in Rockaway Township.


The suit follows two filed by the remaining two victims in the crash, both passengers in Ziniewicz's car. The family of Bassirou Diate, 33, who died on Aug. 31, nearly a month following the crash, filed suit on June 9. Alicia Jackson, 31, of Newton, who survived her injuries but was left blinded in one eye, filed in September 2019. 


Morris/Sussex Assignment Judge Stuart Minkowitz ordered Diate and Jackson's cases consolidated in July. Ziniewicz's attorney is asking for his complaint to join the other actions.


The crash occurred around 10:30 p.m. when Crilley, driving a 2012 Isuzu tow truck  hauling two cars, crossed the double yellow lines and struck Ziniewicz's car head-on, police said. Crilley told police after the crash that the truck was in "poor working condition," and has argued in court that the braking system failed him. 


Prosecutors said Crilley, 30, was high on drugs at the time of the crash and the brakes were found to be in working order.


Crilley, at the time of his arrest, was on pretrial release for drug-related charges in Passaic County and had already completed the drug court program in Morris County for prior charges. The lawsuit alleges West Jersey Enterprise was negligent in hiring Crilley, a convicted criminal. It also says the defendants are liable for the victim's pain and suffering and wrongful death. 


Less than a month after the crash, the suit claims, Hayden and Kehoe made a fraudulent transfer by creating a new entity "with the express purpose of wrongfully concealing the assets of West Jersey Enterprise" and to render them free of judgment.


Crilley faces six charges in criminal court, including two counts of vehicular homicide. He is expected back in court on Nov. 4.



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This case is a great example of a tow companies vicarios liability where any actins by an individual tow operator makes the company equally responsible. The company can't claim they did know based on prior history. Those are serious drugs alleged in the driver's system. Good luck in your case.       R

Randall C. Resch

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  • 9 months later...
Guest Jessica columbie

Yes it's TRUE james ziniewicz  was my brother and he deserves justice my brother was a great guy I miss him dearly 

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Judge says jurors can hear blood results, evidence in double fatal 2019 Lafayette crash


A Sussex County jury will hear key evidence that prosecutors say proves a Hampton Township tow truck driver was under the influence of psychoactive drugs prior to a horrific 2019 crash in Lafayette that killed two county residents, a state Superior Court judge has ruled.


Judge Michael Gaus, in a Jan. 25 order, gave prosecutors the green light to show future jurors blood and urine results showing Joseph Crilley, 32, was high on fentanyl, morphine and other psychoactive drugs when his wrecker crossed over the double-yellow lines on Aug. 5, 2019 in Lafayette and crushed a Honda Civic hatchback. Wax folds that allegedly contained heroin found on the driver seat and driver-side floor of the tow truck and a glass smoking device can also be shown, Gaus stated in his order.


Crilley, who has cycled through multiple defense attorneys since his arrest 39 days after the crash, sought to keep the evidence from jurors in a motion to suppress evidence, which included in-person testimony last summer by New Jersey State Police troopers James Celi and Daniel Rodriguez. Celi was first to look inside the tow truck's cab to obtain vehicle registration and driver's license information and discovered a bottle of sertraline, an antidepressant, but did not observe wax folds. Rodriguez testified he and a fellow trooper were second to look in the cab, where they discovered three wax folds.


Jeff Patti, Crilley's defense attorney, argued in court that the wax folds were unlawfully seized by Rodriguez without a warrant, but the judge in his order disagreed, instead stating that Rodriguez's search was lawful since, as a fatal crash investigator, he had rightful access to the interior of the truck to conduct an administrative inspection. Police may still seize evidence without a warrant if the evidence is in plain view and if the officer had probable cause to associate the evidence with a crime, the judge ruled, attributing his findings to a 2016 New Jersey Supreme Court decision.


Gaus disagreed with Patti's second argument that had Rodriguez not conducted the purported "unlawful" search the second time, there would have been no grounds for a search warrant to obtain Crilley's blood and urine. Crilley also did not show signs of impairment, Rodriguez testified, so there was no probable cause for the warrant, Patti argued.


Celi, who called the judge to obtain a warrant to analyze Crilley's blood and alcohol, was already in the process of applying for the warrant prior to the purported heroin being discovered and other evidence, such as the finding of the antidepressant medication and the severity of the crash, was enough for probable cause.


Patti told the New Jersey Herald this week that he is in the process of filing a motion to appeal Gaus' decision, which must be made within 20 days from the date the order was released. Patti is also seeking to "stay" the case, meaning all hearings will temporary pause, as the motion weaves its way through the state Appellate Division. The appeals court can either reverse Gaus' decision, allow additional arguments to be heard before Gaus or deny the motion.


Gaus noted during a Jan. 25 hearing in court that he anticipates moving the case along despite Patti's actions, stating that it needs a "high priority trial date." The trial is expected to take place in early spring.


Crilley was indicted by a Sussex County grand jury on Dec. 12, 2019 and is facing two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide, one count of assault by auto, a fourth-degree crime, and three counts of third-degree drug possession.


Police responded around 10:30 p.m. to the two-vehicle crash on Route 94 in Lafayette, according to court records. A crash reconstruction report, investigation and statements from witnesses established that Crilley, driving an Isuzu tow truck that was towing two vehicles was "speeding, crossed the double yellow lines and crushed the (Honda) with horrifying force," Gaus wrote in his decision, referring to testimony given by the officers.


Officers testified that the impact propelled the Honda backward more than 70 yards, or 210 feet, and when the vehicles came to rest, the Honda was partially trapped under the tow truck. The Honda driver, James Ziniewicz, 43, of Newton died at the scene and rear passenger, Bassirou Diate, 33, of Hamburg died of his injuries 26 days later. A third passenger suffered severe injuries, including a loss of her eye.


Crilley has argued that the truck's braking system failed and he was unable to stop in time, but prosecutors said an inspection found the brakes to be in working order.




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