An off-duty cop in New Jersey allegedly hit a nurse with his car and, instead of calling 911 or offering aid, took the body home and discussed it with his mom.
Ultimately, the cop’s father—who’s also a police officer—called 911, according to local officials.
Newark Police Officer Louis Santiago is now facing several charges, including reckless vehicular homicide and desecrating human remains, for the alleged hit-and-run on Nov. 1, according to a Wednesday press release from the acting Essex County prosecutor. Santiago’s mother and the vehicle’s passenger are also facing charges for their alleged roles in the incident.
Patrick P. Toscano Jr., an attorney for Santiago, wrote in an email to VICE News that the Newark Police Department has suspended his client, who has been charged with 13 offenses—“most of which are either unfounded or duplicative.”
“Any loss of life is tragic. This one is no different. A horrific tragedy. No other way to say it,” Toscano said in a separate statement he forwarded to VICE News. “That having been said, we have seen no evidence to date which reflects that this occurrence was anything other than a terrible accident—not a crime, an accident.”
Santiago pleaded not guilty to his charges and was released Wednesday to what’s “essentially home detention,” according to Toscano, who described the allegations as “absurd.”
Santiago, 25, was driving on the Garden State Parkway around 3 a.m. when he allegedly drifted onto the right shoulder and struck Damian Z. Dymka, the prosecutor’s office said. Toscano told the New York Times that Dymka was walking against traffic and wearing a werewolf costume, and said in the statement forwarded to VICE News that it all happened in the “pitch dark.” Santiago, who was driving within the legal speed limit, initially didn’t “realize what he struck,” Toscano said. (The incident occurred a few hours after Halloween ended.)
After hitting Dymka—described as a “wonderful person, kind soul, and amazing cat dad” in a GoFundMe set up for the family—Santiago and the car’s passenger, Albert Guzman, allegedly didn’t call 911 or render aid, according to the prosecutor’s office. They also allegedly returned to the scene “multiple times” before settling on removing Dymka’s body.
“Officer Santiago placed the decedent in his vehicle in order to take him to the nearest hospital,” Toscano said in the statement forwarded to VICE News. “Parenthetically, Officer Santiago’s house was in very close proximity to the accident scene.”
After taking Dymka’s body home, Santiago, Guzman, and his mother, Annette Santiago, all discussed what to do, the prosecutor’s office said. Eventually, Santiago’s father—a Newark police lieutenant—called 911 and reported his son had been in an accident. Santiago then returned to the scene with Dymka’s body, which New Jersey State Police found in his backseat, prosecutors said. It’s not clear exactly when Dymka died, but he was deceased by the time police discovered him.
An attorney for Guzman did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment, while a person who answered the phone at the law office representing Annette Santiago declined to comment.
The Newark Police Department directed VICE News’ request for comment to the prosecutor’s office.