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Wilde v. Township of Cranford

April 17, 2009

TRACEY WILDE, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF CRANFORD, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, CP No. 99-40680.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 27, 2009

Before Judges Graves and Grall.

Following a trial, the Workers' Compensation Court awarded dependency benefits to petitioner Tracey Wilde (Tracey) and her two children. On appeal, the Township of Cranford (Township) contends the court erred in finding that petitioner's husband, Russell Scott Wilde, Sr., (Wilde) suffered a stress-induced occupational suicide, which was compensable. After considering the Township's arguments in light of the record and the applicable law, we are satisfied there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the court's determination that Wilde's work during Hurricane Floyd "led to a loss of normal rational judgment that resulted in his suicide." Accordingly, we affirm.

Wilde was born on December 26, 1965, graduated from Cranford High School in 1984, and joined the Cranford Police Department in 1985. Tracey and Wilde were married on February 14, 1992, and they had two children: the first born in 1993, and the second born in 1995. Wilde was promoted to detective in 1990, sergeant in 1994, and lieutenant in 1999. As lieutenant, Wilde was responsible for supervising approximately fifteen patrolmen and two sergeants. During the course of his fourteen-year career, Wilde received numerous awards for professionalism and heroism.

On Thursday, September 16, 1999, when Hurricane Floyd struck, Wilde was designated Incident Commander, and he was put in charge of coordinating the Township's rescue and recovery efforts. From Thursday, September 16, 1999, to Saturday, September 18, 1999, Wilde worked approximately thirty-eight hours in a fifty-one hour period.

Tracey testified that her husband did not come home from work Thursday night. When she visited him at the police station on Friday afternoon, he was the only one "with his heavy rain gear on" even though the sun was out. She also testified that her husband was "wired" when he arrived home Friday evening, he could not "settle down," and he did "not really" sleep "much" Friday night. Wilde left for work at approximately 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning and did not return home until approximately 6:00 p.m.

Later that evening, Tracey and her husband attended a fellow police officer's wedding. Tracey testified that her husband looked "very tired" so she drove to the wedding, which was unusual. During the wedding reception, Tracey did not note anything unusual in his behavior, and he appeared to be enjoying himself. Before leaving the wedding, Wilde spoke to his father, Harry Wilde, who was the Chief of Police for the Township. After her husband spoke with his father, Tracey testified he "seemed more wired again and more . . . on edge and worrying about the next day, and what . . . his duties were going to be."

As Tracey drove home, her husband appeared tired, and he was talking about the next day. Tracey testified that her husband appeared to be "worrying about what's going to happen the next day," which was unusual because he "was never a worrier." Tracey also testified that her husband told her about "people [who] had eight feet of water in [the] first floors of their homes," which destroyed everything.

After arriving home, Tracey and her husband went upstairs to their bedroom. According to Tracey, her husband again discussed what happened at work, and he said he "was very exhausted." Tracey further testified that although her husband was not a religious person, he stated "you have to be so thankful for God. You must have an angel looking over you. . . . You know how lucky we are. We had an angel looking over us." Tracey testified that her husband "never talked like that before," and it was "very strange."

Tracey explained that during this time, she was walking back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom, which was across the hall. As she came back into the bedroom, she saw her husband reach high up on a dresser where he kept his gun. She testified:

I figured, well, he must be reaching for it or putting it away or something and he said if you saw what I saw, you would want to die, and I just remember standing there looking and I heard a loud noise and then I don't even ...


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