On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.
Botter, King and McElroy. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, J.A.D.
[177 NJSuper Page 265] This case presents a question of interpretation under the "hit-and-run" section of our motor vehicle code, N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. On January 21, 1980 defendant was convicted of a violation of subsection (a) in the Marlboro Municipal Court and the mandatory $100 fine for a first violation of that subsection was imposed.*fn1 On appeal to the Law Division, defendant was again
found guilty in a trial de novo on the record. R. 3:23-8(a). On this appeal defendant contends that the evidence does not support his conviction under subsection (a) of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. At oral argument defense counsel conceded that the evidence supported a finding of guilt under subsection (d).
The essentially undisputed facts are as follows: At around 5:30 p.m. on December 8, 1979 the 77-year-old defendant was driving his automobile from Jersey City to Marlboro Township to visit close friends, the Maltese family. As defendant was making a left-hand turn from Church Road onto Floyd Wykoff Road in Marlboro he struck a parked car. At trial he claimed that he was cut off by another car and was forced to run into the parked car.
Defendant immediately got out of his car in the residential neighborhood. No one was about. His nose was bleeding. After several minutes defendant got back into his car and drove to his friends' house at 14 Bruce Road, a corner property intersecting with Floyd Wykoff Road, one block away and within sight of the accident scene. Defendant parked his car in front of the Maltese house; he left it protruding out into the traveled portion of Floyd Wykoff Road. He immediately went inside the house to the bathroom to wash his face and inspect his injury. One of the occupants, Michael Maltese, came upstairs and observed defendant in the bathroom washing his face. He testified that defendant was bleeding from the nose and seemed stunned. Maltese went outside and saw defendant's car improperly parked, protruding into the traveled lane rather than against the curb. He pulled the car up into the driveway and partially into the garage attached to the Maltese home.
At 5:41 p.m. Patrolman Van Note of the Marlboro Township Police Department received a call from his dispatcher of an accident near the intersection of Floyd Wykoff Road and Church
Road. He arrived at the scene "several minutes" later and observed a parked vehicle with rear-end damage. No one was at the scene. Van Note's superior, Sergeant Hall, arrived "two, three minutes later" and both officers followed the trail of radiator fluid in the street to defendant's car parked at the Maltese house.
Defendant Saulina said the police pulled up to the Maltese house only seven minutes after the accident, just as he finished washing his face. Michael Maltese said the police arrived immediately after he pulled the car into the driveway. Defendant then gave a statement to the police about the accident; his claimed injury was noted on the police report. Van Note said the owner of the damaged car, Richard Bradley of 41 Church Road, said "he was inside at that time eating dinner. He heard the accident, he came out and all he saw was his vehicle damaged." The defendant was given a ticket for a general violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129, without specification of subsection.
Our "hit-and-run" statute is divided into five subsections, (a) through (e). N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. We are here concerned with the interrelationship of subsections (a) through (d).*fn2 Our Supreme Court has observed that N.J.S.A. 39:4-129 "is comparable to hit and run statutes throughout the country, though it is not nearly as well drawn or as clearly expressed as most of them." State v. Gill , 47 N.J. 441, 443 (1966). The statute's purpose is to prevent "the automobile driver involved in an accident from evading his responsibilities by escaping or departing before" being identified. Ibid. The statute is to be construed so as to "fairly permit, the statutory objective . . . to be fulfilled" and "absurd or unreasonable results are . . . to be avoided." Id. at 444.
Subsection (a), of which defendant was found guilty, stated at the ...