Westfield Crossing Guards Avoid Jail Time in Fatal North Avenue Accident

Patricia Currie's brother says suspended sentences send the wrong message.

 both of Westfield, will not serve any jail time for their roles in the death of Patricia Currie, 68, of Scotch Plains.

The Westfield crossing guards, who admitted they had been drinking at the Knights of Columbus, located on North Avenue in Westfield, before they hit Currie at the intersection of North Avenue and Tuttle Parkway on Jan. 25, 2012, appeared before Union County Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue Friday morning for sentencing. 

Currie, a hospice nurse, had grazed pedestrian David Kervick with her car and was attempting to lead him to safety when she was hit first by Casiere and then, moments later, by Diaz. Currie, a mother of two, died later of her injuries. 

Under plea agreements with Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney of Bergen County, both Casiere and Diaz faced third-degree offenses, which carry maximum penalties of five years in jail. 

Casiere's attorney, Anthony Palumbo, asked that Donohue take his client's age and health conditions into consideration. Palumbo stated that Casiere and his family feel "indescribable pain because of what happened to Ms. Currie." He also asked the judge to think of Casiere as "a good man who did a bad thing." He reminded the court that his client had served in both World War II and the Korean War and raised five children. Currently, Casiere spends his days caring for his wheelchair-bound wife who was unable to accompany him to court Friday due to her deteriorating health, Palumbo said.

Donohue, who described cases such as this among the "most difficult" he must preside over, said he weighed the aggravating and mitigating factors and found that the mitigating factors "significantly and substantially outweigh (the) aggravating factors in this case."

He noted that sending Casiere to prison would be not only a "hardship" to the senior citizen but one to his wife as well. Though he said he had never had to decide a case involving a man of Casiere's age going to prison, he said that did not make him "judgement-proof."

Donohue then sentenced Casiere to a three-year suspended sentence for the vehicular homicide charge and a four-year state prison term that also suspended the imposition of the custodial term in the matter of the charge of third degree assault for hitting Kervick. He was also issued fines amounting to under $1,500. Further, Casiere is no longer permitted to operate a motor vehicle. Donohue, who is eligible to retire in three years, said Casiere is to surrender to the court in three years time when he will revisit the sentence. Donohue noted that he did not want another judge who was unfamiliar with all aspects of the case, including the pain and suffering Currie's family has endured and the considerable damage done to Kervick, to step in to rule after he has retired.

"Mr. Casiere, the difference between this sentence and a straight probationary sentence is if you violate the conditions of this suspended sentence, you are to appear immediately to have the sentence imposed against you without any further findings," said Donohue, who added that he will continue to suspend the sentence so long as Casiere does what he is supposed to do as monitored by probation. 

Before Diaz's sentencing, his attorney, Anthony Rinaldo, told Donohue that his client suffers from "several maladies." In addition to having recently undergone cataract surgery, Diaz also has two heart stents. Diaz also served in the U.S. Army, Rinaldo said, and was a postal employee for 32 years. Diaz, who initially fled the scene of the accident, a second-degree crime, fully cooperated with police officers once he realized what had happened, Diaz said, adding that like Casiere, Diaz has no past criminal history, nor any motor vehicle violations. Diaz told Currie's reatives, who filled the second row of the courtroom, how sorry he was.

Donohue then issued Diaz a five-year suspended sentence and a series of fines. Further, he cannot operate a motor vehicle for the length of this sentence. He, too, will be under parole supervision.

"If you violate your probation you could be sentenced to up to five years in state prison, do you understand?" Donohue said.

Immediately after Diaz's sentence was announced, Currie's daughter, who was visibly upset throughout the proceedings, left the courtroom.

Tom Sullivan, Currie's younger brother, read an emotional statement on behalf of his family, prior to the sentences being handed down, and described his sister as the "matriarch of the family."

Sullivan, of Pt. Pleasant Beach, said the whole family, particularly Currie's two children and four grandchildren, miss her "guidance, friendship and love." Sullivan also thanked the Westfield Police Department, EMS workers, the staff at Overlook Hospital and all the pedestrians who stopped to help his sister on the night of the fatal accident. 

Following the sentencing, Sullivan expressed his frustration at Donohue's decision.

"I know people that get DWIs, that go to jail," he said. "To kill someone and get away with it, it's almost nonsensical. It just sends a message that if you're older and you went in the Army when you were younger you can go out and drink and drive and run people over and kill them and it's ok. Judge Donohue thinks it's ok."

Just before Donohue issued the sentences, Delaney said that Currie's family, seeking justice rather than vengeance, would trust the judge's decision.

"This thing got switched from Union County to Bergen County because we have a lot of relatives who work here and unfortunately that seemed to backfire on us," Sullivan said. "I would've preferred somebody local who was more interested in the case."

Sullivan said while the crossing guards' ages were a concern, he didn't think it would end up that "they'd walk out. I thought the judge would be wise enough to send a good message to the public."

Outside the courtroom, Palumbo and Rinaldo said their clients are heartbroken as a result of the accident and the fact that they may not be going to jail doesn't mean they can move on.

"They're both going to suffer every day for the rest of whatever time they have left," Palumbo said.

"With regards to Judge Donohue's decision, we're certainly happy that the judge agreed that there would be a serious injustice if my client went to jail, similar to Mr. Casiere. Even though their ages are different, they're still both excellent individuals in the community for long periods of time. I'm sure that he'll regret this for the rest of his life and he won't be driving either," said Rinaldo.

Both Palumbo and Rinaldo anticipate civil suits will be brought by the Currie and Kervick families against their clients. Further, they said they expect the Knights of Columbus will be sued for its role in the accident. Rinaldo also said the Town of Westfield could be named in a suit because a report by a traffic engineer had previously identified the area where the accident took place as poorly lit. 

sp resident May 11, 2013 at 10:35 AM
What did I say before, that drinking and driving isn't taken seriously. These towns allow these clubs to drink, drink, drink and then they drive home just waiting to kill someone, which these guys did. Shame, shame, shame!
S_O_G May 11, 2013 at 11:40 AM
Oh, a lawyer saying that he is going to sue someone because they have "proof" of wrong doing. It must be true, there has never been a frivolous lawsuit in the world. What could be worse, someone else then taking this "proof" as "fact" and trying to use it to prove their point?
Rosemarie McCallion May 11, 2013 at 12:42 PM
My heart goes out to the Currie family. Mrs, Curried died trying to do the right thing.
lee giroux May 11, 2013 at 01:23 PM
Judge Donohue ,I am glad that you considered all of the circumstances,in this case. I am sure that the prosecutor has had bad judgement in his life .Thank you for seeing the whole picture.
Lehrer May 11, 2013 at 01:27 PM
You don't get grazed by a 6000 pound vehicle. I didn't know it was legal in nj to drink and drive, kill someone, and horrifically injure another and be free this sends a great massage.
Lehrer May 11, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Are you related to the judge?
lord snot May 11, 2013 at 01:53 PM
The Knights of Columbus should be forced to close for their role - or at least forbidden from serving alcohol. I cant disagree that sending two elderly men to prison is senseless as its not like their prison term will rehabilitate them. Forbiding them from ever driving again and seeing them suffer signifficant financial loss from a civil suit is just punishment in this case.
janet martin May 11, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Because Kervick was also hit and injured by Casiere and Diaz when they hit Currie, that's why.
Barney Oldfield May 11, 2013 at 04:17 PM
The area is very poorly lit. There have been numerous other accidents in that area. Unfortunately, Ms. Currie might have been hit even in the absence of alcohol use by the drivers as illustrated by the fact that she, herself, "grazed" Mr. Kervick.
Barney Oldfield May 11, 2013 at 04:33 PM
The message sent is that, in some cases, justice must be tempered with compassion. This was a very difficult case and I am sure a very difficult decision for the Judge. This is the very reason why we have an independent judiciary in New Jersey, so that public opinion and concern about not being elected, does not get in the way of reasoned judgment. I have looked up Judge Donahue. He is no liberal "let 'em loose" type. Rather, he spent many years in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office before becoming a Judge and as a Judge has had no problem issuing very lengthy prison sentences in appropriate cases.
NewToFanwood May 11, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I agree with you, lord. Also, why should the state have to pick up the bill for their medical care and food while they are in prison? I am astonished, however, that these seniors would drink and drive. Some people show no sense. The sentence, however, must make the Currie family feel as though justice has not been done. I understand that. Deepest sympathy to them. It's sad for Mr. Kervick, as well.
NewToFanwood May 11, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Outrageous. Irresponsible. Disrespectful.
NewToFanwood May 11, 2013 at 05:50 PM
I feel the same way, Rosemarie.
sp resident May 11, 2013 at 06:03 PM
You do the crime you pay the time. But I guess it's ok in this circumstance? Hopefully some of you feel the same way when someone else does crime.
sp resident May 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
There's so many people in jail that doesn't need to be there, but unfortunately they didn't have a good lawyer, excellent prosecutor and judge to let them go free. I can't believe some of you have the nerve to talk about these men not going to rehabilitated in prison and not having to pay for their medical care and food,who cares? They should have known that drinking and driving is a criminal act , so don't feel sorry for them , feel sorry for the families of the woman killed. America is a nation of prisoners, everything that happens you all are ready to call the cops on someone and are pushing for jail sentences ,but when it's your own you feel sympathetic for them. Hypocrites!
sp resident May 11, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Let me put this out there straight instead of beating around the bush. Sure I've been in jail and so would these old drunks if they weren't good old white boys.
NR9 May 11, 2013 at 07:15 PM
It's a sad commentary about our society but I think sp resident is right. Change the skin color and reduce the crime to something like robbery of jewelry, cash, etc ("stuff") and we'd be talking prison time. Meanwhile, getting drunk and proceeding to drive a car that kills someone really ought not to be considered any different from doing the same using a gun or a knife. This entire story is so sad on many levels.
NewToFanwood May 11, 2013 at 11:42 PM
I hope you're not referring to me, because I'm white but I have absolutely no sympathy for these fools, nor for any of the K of C members who will keep them from paying their own fines. Imagine holding an all-you-can-drink affair to assist them. Such poor taste, in addition to not helping them to accept responsibility. What am I saying? It was the K of C that allowed them to drink and drive in the first place. Will these men be drinking at the next party? Will they then drive themselves home, down the same poorly lit street against judge's orders? What have they learned about drinking and driving. Some K of C members don't seem to have learned anything. A drinking party, My god!
Strike Force May 12, 2013 at 01:01 AM
What you are all missing is that this was a plea deal. The victims family rolled the dice when the prosecution and the defense brokered a deal. The victim's family most likely wanted to avoid a trial as did the defendants. There may be evidence that none of the public is aware of the would have been presented at trial that would have favored one side or the other. If a civil trial takes place, evidence such as the victim's autopsy report along with toxicology results will be discoverable by the defense. What should be a main focus is why it took so long for the Union County Prosecutors Office to turn this over to Bergen County because Mrs. Cherie's son-in-law works for Union County Prosecutor.
sp resident May 12, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Whoever is posting this comment is a complete fraud! I did not post this comment, I did post the one above . Why is PATCH allowing other people to use my name SP Resident?
sp resident May 12, 2013 at 11:28 AM
As I always say, if you don't feel that way , it isn't about you Next to Fanwood.
sp resident May 12, 2013 at 11:33 AM
For the person who used my name to post some stupid comment about being in jail is a coward. I guess my comment was extremely powerful you had to pretend to be me and post lies. Hey, what can I say, it's a free country right? If you have something to say say ,but create your own identity!
Mine May 13, 2013 at 01:44 AM
I agree. We do not know all the facts. The judge did what he believed. The two men will never forget the accident. Hopefully, they will be GOOD BOYS during their probation period and beyond!
Rita L. May 13, 2013 at 02:01 PM
I will always believe that our Mayor and town council have blood on their hands because if their complacency and inaction at this location.
Wally Westfield May 13, 2013 at 02:54 PM
anyone else find the timing curious that building variances were recently granted for the Central & Grove project !
S_O_G May 13, 2013 at 05:32 PM
SP resident. Not saying there is a connection, but anyone that says something against NR9, usually has a fake account created with the exact same username where the "new" user suddenly agrees with NR9. Again, not making any claims about NR9's role is this. But just keep in mind that imitating someone online in NJ in order to cause their reputation harm is ILLEGAL in NJ. Just contact Patch and see if they will forward this to the local police.
NR9 May 13, 2013 at 06:00 PM
@S_O_G: I think the Sunday 7:23 am comment from "sp resident" was in reply to the Saturday 3:02 pm comment from "sp resident" and not my Saturday 3:15 pm comment as you are suggesting. I have never posted a comment in Patch under any name other than NR9. Take a read again and I think you'll find that sp resident was replying to sp resident and not to me.
sp resident May 13, 2013 at 07:25 PM
@S_O_G "But just keep in mind that imitating someone online in NJ in order to cause their reputation harm is ILLEGAL in NJ. Just contact Patch and see if they will forward this to the local police." So let me get this straight, posting under the name sp resident is imitating someone online? Do you know that there are thousands of Scotch Plains residents if that's what sp stands for? Go ahead and call the police, you will be laughed out of the station house. ROLMFAO
sp resident May 13, 2013 at 08:19 PM
So you are just going to hijack my username to post lies . Well go ahead. I'll just create another one. Do you think you won because you are afraid of my comments, you did not win! I will continue to post my opinions about you white people and your evil plot again against this world. So go ahead and take the name sp resident, everyone in scotch plains is a sp resident. Am I going to call patch, no, am I going to call the police, no,that's ridiculous ! but I am still going to post my comments forever and ever !! Have a great day, and hope you do newly crowned sp resident. Hope you've made your day! I will not be checking your response because you are not worth my time, so lets start the cat and mouse games, because I can create millions of user names, and I have millions if emails.
S_O_G May 14, 2013 at 01:19 AM
NR9. Yup, you got us. You are not evil, from your post it is obvious, you are just as dumb as you sound. Sorry I thought you were evil


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