On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 06-05-0458.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Yannotti.
Defendant Adewale B. Idowu was found guilty of eluding, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b, and certain other offenses.
Defendant appeals from his conviction and the sentences imposed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Defendant was charged under Union County Indictment No. 06-05-0458 with eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b (count one); aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(6) (count two); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d (count three); and aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (counts four, five and six). Defendant was tried before a jury. He represented himself with the assistance of stand-by counsel.
At the trial, the State presented testimony from Officer Jason M. Rodger (Rodger), who was employed by the Westfield Police Department (WPD). Rodger stated that, at approximately 1:00 p.m. on January 27, 2006, he was on duty in a marked police vehicle. Rodger was at the intersection of South Avenue and Crossway Place, eating his lunch and watching the flow of traffic. Rodger noticed a brown Mercedes-Benz stop abruptly and nearly collide with two other vehicles that were stopped at a red light. Rodger said that as the Mercedes stopped, it "kind of went sideways a little bit."
Rodger ran a "plate inquiry" for the Mercedes on his mobile, "in-car computer." The inquiry revealed that the vehicle's registration had expired. Rodger put his lunch aside and pulled out into the roadway behind the Mercedes, with the intention of making a motor vehicle stop. Rodger said that, as he was doing so, the Mercedes "took off." It passed two other vehicles at the red light, went down South Avenue and made "a hard turn onto Crossway Place." Rodger pursued the vehicle.
The Mercedes gained speed and went through a stop sign on Crossway Place and North Avenue. Rodger activated the lights on his vehicle and radioed to advise headquarters that he was in pursuit of a car. He said that the Mercedes was a "good distance" ahead of his vehicle. Rodger accelerated his vehicle. The Mercedes stopped at a red light on North Avenue in Scotch Plains. According to Rodger, the Mercedes made an abrupt turn onto Crestwood Avenue and, in doing so, passed a red light.
Rodger continued in pursuit of the Mercedes and communicated with headquarters. He testified that he was traveling about fifty miles an hour at a point where the posted speed limit was twenty-five-miles per hour. The Mercedes approached an intersection at Crestwood and Morris Avenues. Rodger said the car continued on without stopping at the stop sign and nearly collided with two trucks that were coming down Morris Avenue. Rodgers was three car lengths behind the Mercedes.
The Mercedes continued along Ascot Road in Scotch Plains, turned left onto Edgewood Road, and turned left again onto Woodland. Rodger said that the Mercedes came to an intersection at Westfield Road, passed a stop sign and nearly collided with a white minivan. The Mercedes was rapidly accelerating. Rodger estimated that it was "easily going" in excess of eighty miles per hour at the time. Rodger said that the vehicle began to straddle the road's double yellow lines, passed a grammar school, picked up speed and forced cars to veer off the road to get out of the way.
After passing the school, Rodger tried to close the gap between his vehicle and the Mercedes. The Mercedes came to an intersection, passed a red light and continued on at a high rate of speed. The Mercedes turned onto Route 22 and was almost struck by a large tractor-trailer. Rodger continued in pursuit. He advised the Mountainside Police Department that he was entering its jurisdiction. The Mercedes ran a red light at Glenside Avenue in Scotch Plains and nearly collided with several cars.
Rodger began to back off from the chase out of concern that the driver of the Mercedes was "just too dangerous[.]" He slowed down and pulled off to the shoulder. He observed the suspect drive on the shoulder of the road at a high rate of speed. The Mountainside police took up the pursuit. Rodger observed the Mountainside police chasing the vehicle through a parking lot. Rodger saw the Mercedes strike a gold-colored sports utility vehicle (SUV) that was waiting to exit the parking lot onto New Providence Road. Rodger said that the suspect stopped his vehicle. A Mountainside police officer got out of his car and ran up to the Mercedes.
According to Rodger, the gold SUV pulled away and the suspect accelerated and turned his vehicle toward Rodger's car. Rodger pulled his car off to the side of the road. Rodger was instructed to pursue the vehicle. According to Rodger, the Mercedes took off. He said that the suspect "was flying." The vehicles continued south on New Providence Road. The Mercedes crossed over into the northbound lane of travel and almost struck a van heading north. The vehicle continued down New Providence Road at a high rate of speed, crossed over the double yellow lines and collided with another car. Rodger lost sight of the vehicle. Rodger and the Mountainside police officers began to look for the car on the surrounding side streets.
Rodger received a report as to the location of the vehicle. He started heading towards North Avenue. Another officer had come in contact with the vehicle at North Avenue and Tuttle Parkway. Rodger said that the Mercedes took off at a high rate of speed down North Avenue, passed a restaurant and then turned right into a bank parking lot at the corner of North Avenue and Hetfield Avenue.
Police units from Scotch Plains and other jurisdictions pursued the vehicle. Rodger testified that the suspect drove his vehicle in the direction of Captain David Wayman (Wayman) of the WPD and tried to strike the door panel of Wayman's vehicle. Wayman took evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit. The Mercedes exited the bank parking lot, drove over the grass, passed over the sidewalk and entered the roadway. The officers continued in pursuit. Rodger took over and continued as the primary unit in the chase.
They continued down North Avenue. Rodger testified that another police vehicle was heading in their direction on North Avenue. Rodger stated that the suspect vehicle veered off the road, crossed the double yellow lines in the roadway and went "head-on" toward Officer Robert Weiss (Weiss) of the WPD in an attempt to strike him. Weiss drove off to the side of the road to avoid being hit.
The Mercedes continued down North Avenue to Crossway Place. The suspect made an "abrupt turn" onto Crossway, lost control of his vehicle, collided with two other vehicles, and stopped. The suspect was taken into custody. Rodger identified defendant as the suspect. Rodger said that, although he lost sight of the vehicle at one point during the chase, he knew it was the same car because the vehicle had the same license plate and description.
Officer Robert Beaton (Beaton) of the WPD testified that he attempted to stop the Mercedes. He followed the vehicle as it entered the bank parking lot. Beaton observed the suspect drive the vehicle directly at Captain Wayman. Beaton also observed the vehicle drive over the double yellow line directly at Officer Weiss. Beaton testified that he saw the vehicle sideswipe another car and strike a vehicle "head to head." After the Mercedes crashed, Beaton exited his car. Beaton and several other officers approached the Mercedes. He identified defendant as the person who was driving that vehicle.
Officer Weiss also testified. He said that on the date of the incident, he was on patrol duty in the northwest section of Westfield. He was informed that Rodger was in pursuit of a vehicle and they were coming back into Westfield on North Avenue. Weiss observed the Mercedes approach at a high rate of speed and cross over the double yellow line into the oncoming lane in which he was traveling, forcing him off the road.
Weiss testified that the driver attempted to "ram" him on the road. He said that he caught a quick glimpse of the driver.
It was a black male. Weiss said that he turned around and, at about that time, headquarters advised that a motor vehicle accident had occurred. Weiss headed to the scene, ...