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State v. Ezekian

January 5, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Municipal Appeal No. 03-07R-T04.

Per curiam.


Argued October 28, 2008

Before Judges Parker and LeWinn.

Defendant Gregory Ezekian, Jr. appeals from a judgment of conviction entered on December 10, 2007 in which he was convicted after de novo review of driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96; failure to report an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-130; and leaving the scene of an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. Defendant was sentenced to the same fines and penalties imposed by the municipal court: one-year suspension of driving privileges, twelve to forty-eight hours participation in the IDRC*fn1 program, and aggregate fines amounting to $5,824.

The charges against defendant arose from a one-vehicle accident on Route 78 East reported to the police on August 21, 2006, at 1:55 a.m. New Jersey State Troopers Schlatter and Burrell responded to the accident. The troopers noticed a damaged guardrail and discovered a vehicle down an embankment approximately 200 feet from the damaged guardrail. Schlatter testified that the vehicle was an SUV that "was unrecognizable" and "looked like it rolled over a few times." The troopers did not see anyone in the vehicle. They learned that defendant was the owner of the vehicle after checking the registration.

A search was immediately conducted by the troopers and Bernards Township Police for occupants of the vehicle. A trooper noticed some blood near the passenger side of the vehicle which led the search party to more blood by a guardrail that separated the interstate from Affinity Credit Union. More blood was discovered on the door and doorknob to Affinity Credit Union's parking garage. The search, aided by canines and a helicopter, focused on the area around the accident and Affinity Credit Union. The search was called off at approximately 4:00 a.m. The occupants of the SUV could not be located.

At approximately 5:45 a.m., Bernards Township Patrolman Chris Hurst returned to the scene of the accident to continue searching in a construction area near the scene. He noticed a black Cadillac driving into the construction area as he was driving out. The Cadillac caught Hurst's attention because "it didn't seem to fit in the area with the construction site."

After a few minutes, the Cadillac left the site. Hurst confirmed it was the same Cadillac he observed previously. He followed it and stopped the vehicle after a license plate check verified that the Cadillac was registered to defendant's father, Gregory Ezekian, Sr., at defendant's address. As Hurst approached the passenger side of the Cadillac, he noticed defendant lying down in the back seat with "numerous cuts, scrapes, [and] injuries" and clothing that was "torn, mussed, dirty, and appeared to have dried blood on it."

Gregory Ezekian, Sr. informed Hurst that "his son was injured and that he was taking him to Somerset Medical Center." Hurst contacted EMS and the New Jersey State Police. A few moments later, Troopers Schlatter and Burrell arrived. Defendant was already in the ambulance being treated for his injuries when Schlatter got into the ambulance to question him. In the ambulance, Schlatter immediately noticed that defendant "looked like he a car accident" because he had an "air bag burn on his head...cuts and scrapes on his hands." Defendant's clothes were "mussed, ripped" and "his body was dirty, scraped." Schlatter also detected the odor of alcohol and observed that defendant had "watery, glassy eyes." Schlatter read defendant his Miranda*fn2 rights, which defendant acknowledged. Defendant told Schlatter that he wasn't sure if he was driving the vehicle and did not know what happened. Defendant did not have any difficulty understanding Schlatter's questions.

Schlatter read Miranda rights to defendant again at the hospital and asked him what happened. Defendant did not respond to Schlatter's questions. At 6:50 a.m., Tammy Cobane, RN, drew defendant's blood at Schlatter's request. Defendant's blood was submitted to the State Police laboratory for analysis. The certified laboratory report indicated that defendant's blood contained ethyl alcohol in the amount of 0.106 Wt/Vol%.

On January 16, 2007, a trial was conducted in Bernards Township Municipal Court. The municipal court found that defendant was the driver of the vehicle involved in a serious one-car accident and guilty per se of driving while under the influence because his blood alcohol level was over 0.10. The court found defendant guilty on all charges, imposed fines of $5,824, court cost of $132, and suspended defendant's driver's license for one year.

Prior to trial in municipal court, defendant moved to suppress the evidence of his blood test and the oral statements he made. That motion was denied and the matter proceeded to trial.

During the trial, the State submitted laboratory tests indicating defendant's blood alcohol level. No witness was called with respect to the taking of defendant's blood sample or ...

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