You’d think that police officers would be better equipped to handle a car accident that results in a pedestrian’s death, but as NBC News reports, one New Jersey cop threw his training — and career — out the window after allegedly hitting and killing someone while off-duty before then bringing the dead body home.
Essex County New Jersey prosecutors say that last Halloween, Louis Santiago was driving his Honda Accord drunk just after 3 a.m. with his cousin as his passenger. Not only was he drunk, but he was also using his phone while driving. That’s when they say he allegedly drifted onto the shoulder of Garden State Parkway, where he struck and killed Damian Dymka. Dymka was on his way home from a Halloween party and was still in his costume. Santiago thought he hit an animal. From NBC:
Santiago, 25, initially thought he may have hit an animal, according to his lawyer, Patrick Toscano Jr. The victim, Damian Dymka, 29, was still in the costume that he had worn out that night: a black mask with gold antlers and brown fur covering his shoulders.
It was two hours before authorities were alerted to Dymka’s death. Santiago never called for an ambulance, nor did he attempt to resuscitate Dymka. Instead, he loaded Dymka’s body into the backseat of his car and took him home.
The affidavit paints a chaotic picture of Santiago’s night after hitting Dymka. The evening started off normal. According to his lawyer, Santiago went to the bar after work to watch the Cowboys play. His lawyer was quick to point out that Santiago “had a few drinks but not enough to impair his driving.” That’s when he and his cousin headed out.
After hitting Dymka, Santiago didn’t immediately put his body into the back of his car. Prosecutors say that he left and came back to the scene a few times before finally taking Dymka’s body. Once he had the body, he went to the last place he should’ve been going: Home to tell his mom what happened.
According to an affidavit of probable cause signed by a state trooper, Guzman informed Santiago’s mother that her son had struck a man while driving drunk and the body was in the Honda.
She went to speak with Santiago and then walked over to the car to see the body, the affidavit says.
That’s when she allegedly instructed him to return the dead man to the crash scene, the affidavit says. Santiago’s father called 911 though prosecutors did not detail when this occurred.
Her words to her son were “Put the body back where you hit it.” And that’s exactly what he did. How it took the words of a mother to tell a trained police officer to do something he never should have done in the first place is wild to me.
The only person that may have done the right thing that night was Santiago’s father, who actually called the cops. This angered Santiago, whose shirt had Dymka’s blood on it. But the affidavit says good ole mom was there to help him try to clean the stain. Santigo returned to the scene right as state troopers arrived.
Santiago admitted everything. But in a move that shows that they always protect their own, no breathalyzer was done on Santiago and he wasn’t immediately arrested. It would be nearly a month before he would be taken into custody.
Policing experts said it was curious that the troopers did not give Santiago a Breathalyzer test on the scene. Had they done so, and had Santiago failed, he may have been arrested on the spot.
“If they have no good explanation, like the Breathalyzer did not work, or they didn’t have it for whatever reason, then the only explanation that comes to my mind is that they engaged in what we refer to as ‘professional courtesy,’” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. She described that as “wrong, unethical and quite possibly in direct violation of their departmental SOPs,” or standard operating procedures.
Santiago has now been indicted on 12 felonies. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Dymka’s family has no idea how he ended up walking along the stretch of highway where he was hit. They wouldn’t find out the full story of what happened that night for weeks, only learning of his death much later on the day it happened. Dymka’s boyfriend says his parents are still too full of grief to even discuss what happened.