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State v. Lowry

July 6, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Municipal Appeal No. 4737.

Per curiam.


Argued June 7, 2010

Before Judges Yannotti and Chambers.

Defendant Christine Lowry appeals from an order entered by the Law Division on December 17, 2008, which affirmed her municipal court convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and certain other offenses. We affirm.


This appeal arises from the following facts. On July 25, 2007, police officers in the Township of Wayne issued five municipal court summonses to defendant. She was charged with careless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-97; leaving the scene of an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-129; failure to report an accident, N.J.S.A. 39:4-130; DWI, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; and driving with a suspended driver's license, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40. Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained by the police.

On November 16, 2007, the municipal court judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion. At the hearing, Dominick Staiano, Jr. (Staiano) testified that, on July 25, 2007, at approximately midnight, he was driving on the Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne. Staiano observed an overturned vehicle, with its wheels spinning.

Staiano stopped his vehicle and saw defendant crawling out of the overturned car on the passenger's side. Staiano said that she was dazed, bleeding, and smelled of alcohol. Staiano told defendant that he would call the police, but she asked him not to do so and walked away. Staiano thought that defendant may have been in shock.

A short time later, Officer Rick Vanderclock (Vanderclock) of the Wayne Police Department (WPD) arrived on the scene. He testified that he saw a vehicle that had turned upside down. The car had struck a utility pole which was "dangling over the roadway." A witness told him that the driver had walked away from the scene of the accident. The witness gave Vanderclock a physical description of the driver, which he relayed by radio to other patrol units who were en route to the accident scene.

Vanderclock testified that he looked inside the overturned car. There, he found a purse, which contained the driver's license. Vanderclock said that "there was a lot of blood in the vehicle[.]" He believed that the driver had been injured in the accident. Vanderclock was told that the driver had walked in the direction of a nearby store, and he instructed another officer to attempt to locate the driver there.

Vanderclock then had the dispatcher contact the Pompton Lakes Police Department (PLPD) because the driver's license indicated that the driver resided there. The Pompton Lakes police were provided with defendant's name, address and physical description and told that defendant had fled from the scene of the accident on foot and may be injured.

Sergeant Alfonse Strumalo (Strumalo) of the WPD arrived on the scene. He testified that defendant's vehicle had struck a utility pole. Vanderclock provided him with the address of defendant's residence, which was within a mile of the scene of the accident. Strumalo went to defendant's home and arrived there around 1:00 a.m. He met Patrolman Jonathan Williams (Williams) from the PLPD and Patrolman John Bloom from Riverdale. Strumalo told Williams that there had been a serious accident with injuries and a report that a woman who left the scene was bleeding. He said he was looking to find the driver and speak with her.

The officers rang the door bell at defendant's residence. Strumalo observed a shadow in the window. He stated that it appeared to be the shadow of a man pacing back and forth. Strumalo testified that "it just seemed weird at [that] hour... that someone was pacing[.]" He stated that "it seemed like" something was "wrong in the house." The officers rang the door bell and knocked on the door for a minute or so.

A man in his late twenties or early thirties opened the door. The officers asked the man whether defendant was at home. The man said that defendant was home but she was in bed. The officers asked the man whether they could speak to her, and the man replied that they could. The man started walking up the stairs and left the door opened. Williams noticed a smudge that appeared to be blood on the wall near the stairs. Strumalo testified that he decided that the police had "to go in."

The officers got to the top of the stairs and, in a bedroom, they found defendant lying on a bed. The officers asked defendant about the location of her car. Defendant replied that her car was on the Hamburg Turnpike. Strumalo testified that defendant's eyes were watery and it appeared that she might be intoxicated. Williams testified that he observed blood on defendant's shirt.

Strumalo stated that defendant told him she had "a few scrapes." She showed him a cut on her leg. He asked defendant whether she required an ambulance "or anything like that," and defendant said that she did not need an ambulance. He asked her whether she would accompany him back to her vehicle. According to Strumalo, defendant "willingly said" that she would do so.

Defendant put on her shoes and she walked out with the officers to Strumalo's vehicle. He drove her back to the scene. Williams followed in his police car. Defendant was not handcuffed or detained. At no point did she tell the officers that she did not want to go with them to the accident scene.

On November 28, 2007, the municipal court judge rendered a decision from the bench and denied defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant's municipal court trial began on February 29, 2008. Vanderclock testified that that, when defendant returned to the scene of the accident, he observed that her face was flushed and her eyes were bloodshot and watery. Vanderclock observed cuts and scrapes on ...

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