On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Municipal Appeal No. 009-04-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern and J. N. Harris.
On July 15, 2008, defendant was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129, by civilian complainant Joel Rodriguez. Defendant was found guilty in the Hackensack Municipal Court, and subsequently appealed the conviction to the Law Division, where the case was reviewed de novo. Defendant was again found guilty when the trial court independently reviewed the record and found that the State had proven defendant's culpability beyond a reasonable doubt. This appeal ensued, and we affirm.
On the afternoon of June 28, 2008, the complainant was operating a motorcycle northbound on River Street in Hackensack. Defendant was traveling along the same route, driving a Cadillac with his wife and mother-in-law as passengers.
Complainant alleged that he was stopped in front of defendant's car at a red traffic light at the intersection of River and Berry Streets, and was struck by defendant's Cadillac momentarily after the light turned green as defendant drove around the motorcycle in an attempt to continue northbound. Defendant repeatedly denied any knowledge of striking complainant's motorcycle or person at this intersection.
Defendant continued on River Street with complainant in pursuit, and both vehicles ended up stopping at another traffic light a few blocks up the road. It was at this time that complainant contends he was gesturing to defendant to pull over, in an effort to exclaim that defendant's Cadillac had just struck and damaged the motorcycle and ran over his foot.
Instead, defendant believed that complainant was challenging him to a race, or that he was the undeserved victim of complainant's apparent road rage.
At some point during this exchange, the other passengers in defendant's vehicle allegedly became increasingly fearful of the events that were unfolding, and defendant testified that one of his passengers called the police to report the road rage incident. Complainant conceded that he did not call the police himself.*fn1
Both vehicles continued to travel northbound on River Street, and again met up at a third traffic light, this time at the corner of River Street and University Plaza. It was at this time that defendant attempted to turn onto an adjacent side street and pull his car over, allegedly only now believing for the first time that the two vehicles had made contact. While defendant's vehicle remained stopped, complainant parked his motorcycle and approached defendant's car, allegedly pounding on the driver's side door and kicking the vehicle, damaging the Cadillac in a continued emotional effort, albeit in vain, to enlighten defendant about the accident.
The police responded to the scene forthwith, finding the vehicles parked outside of a nearby Burger King restaurant. Officer Ziegelhofer was one of two responding police officers, and immediately noticed damage to both vehicles upon his arrival at the location. After the parties gave their markedly different accounts of the incident, Officer Ziegelhofer collected defendant's license, registration, and insurance information, compiling all of this data into a police report, a copy of which was provided to complainant. The other officer compiled a property damage report, but neither officer issued a complaint for the incident. According to Officer Ziegelhofer, this was "based on the fact that  [the defendant] did not believe, in my opinion, that he was involved in [an] accident, he wasn't aware at the time he had left [the scene of an accident.]"
It was not until more than two weeks later, on July 15, 2008, that the complainant issued a formal charge with the Hackensack Police Department against defendant for this incident. Thereafter, on September 22, 2008, October 6, 2008, and November 17, 2008, the Hackensack municipal judge heard the matter, and concluded that defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-129 for leaving the scene of an accident. The municipal court imposed a fine of $506 plus $33 ...