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State v. Gill

Decided: October 14, 1965.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM W. GILL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Sullivan, Lewis and Kolovsky. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.

Lewis

Defendant William W. Gill was found guilty in the Municipal Court of Avon-by-the-Sea of leaving the scene of an accident in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. His conviction was affirmed after a trial de novo in the Monmouth County Court. He now appeals to this court.

The record discloses that on June 25, 1964, at approximately 1:40 A.M., Gill (27 years of age) was on his way home from work in a 1959 Ford Galaxie. While proceeding in a westerly direction on Norwood Avenue in Avon, he struck an unoccupied automobile lawfully parked on the north side of the street with sufficient impact to drive it across the sidewalk. Defendant gave evidence that after the accident he emerged from his vehicle and noted on a piece of paper the license number of the automobile he had damaged. The night was dark and, after waiting "10 or 15 minutes" without seeing anyone in the vicinity, he continued to his home "around the corner" where he garaged his car.

A witness who had heard but did not actually see the accident made a prompt telephone report to the police. Within a few minutes, but after defendant had left the scene, an officer arrived and upon an investigation of the area he found some broken "Galaxie lights" that were later identified as belonging to defendant's automobile.

Although the Avon police station was located within a block from where the mishap occurred and remained open all night, defendant did not immediately contact a police officer because, as he testified, "I didn't feel so good." That same

morning, however, at approximately 7:45 A.M., after seeking advice from his father, defendant proceeded to the local police headquarters and reported the accident, whereupon he was given the summons that initiated the proceedings under review.

The critical facts as revealed by the record are in substance uncontroverted. Defendant contends they do not constitute a violation of the so-called "hit-run" statute and, therefore, his conviction of an offense thereunder should be set aside. The statute in relevant part reads:

"The driver of any vehicle knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to a person or damage to property shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident, give his name and address and exhibit his operator's license and registration certificate of his vehicle to the person injured or struck and to any police officer or witness of the accident, and to the driver or occupants of the vehicle collided with and render to a person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying of that person to a hospital or a physician for medical or surgical treatment, if it is apparent that the treatment is necessary or is requested by the injured person." (Emphasis supplied)

It is argued that the italicized mandate, in the absence of a witness to the accident, is inapplicable to defendant because a police officer did not appear at the time of the accident, and in particular in a situation such as here "it would be impractical [for defendant] to remain at the scene any longer than he did." Reliance is placed upon Mazzella v. Lee, 12 N.J. Misc. 158, 170 A. 245 (Sup. Ct. 1934). We note the court in that civil case specifically held that the issue of practicability of compliance with the statute presented a question of fact for resolution by the trial judge sitting without a jury.

It is urged additionally, upon the decisional authority of Butler v. Jersey Coast News Co., 109 N.J.L. 255, 258 (E. & A. 1932), that the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act in controversy are penal in nature and if strictly construed, as the law requires, there could be no justifiable finding of a violation by defendant. The fact complex in Butler is in no wise analogous to the instant case. What Mr. Justice Wachenfeld

said in State v. Edwards, 28 N.J. 292 (1958), ...


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