RARITAN, NJ - The estate of the late Matías Ortega has filed a lawsuit against Raritan Borough, Raritan Borough Police Department, Officer Everett Holt and other individuals employed by the police department and entities charged with being responsible for police services in connection with Ortega’s death after he was hit by a vehicle on Anderson Street in 2018.
Ortega was killed on the evening of his first birthday in July 2018 when a vehicle driven by Raritan resident Ronald Rebernik hit two cars and then Ortega’s family as he was being pushed in a stroller by his mother, Domitila Rosales.
Rosales and her 5-year-old son, Daniel Ortega, who was walking with them, were severely injured in the crash.
Rebernik, 62, of Second Street, was charged with second degree vehicular homicide, two counts of third degree assault by auto, third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance and a disorderly persons offense of being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance in the crash after the incident. He was also issued motor vehicle summonses for driving while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated in a school zone, careless driving, reckless driving and having a controlled dangerous substance in a motor vehicle.
According to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson, the investigation revealed that Rebernik was driving a 2004 Ford Escape southbound on Anderson Street when he crossed to the northbound side, struck two parked cars, left the roadway and continued southbound on the sidewalk where he struck the family. Rebernik, Robertson said, then continued southbound on the sidewalk and re-entered the roadway where he hit two more parked cars on the northbound side of Anderson Street before being disabled.
On July 7, 2018, according to the lawsuit filed in civil court Monday, Rebernik was stopped by police earlier in the day, and, from investigation, the defendants in the case knew or should have known that he was in possession of drugs or other intoxicants and was under the influence of them. In addition, the suit said, the defendants should have known Rebernik was likely to continue operating the motor vehicle while in possession of, and under the influence of, those drugs.
The suit continues, saying the defendants determined there was probable cause to arrest and charge Rebernik, but they still released him from their custody without taking reasonable precautions to ensure he was not under the influence; would not consume any drugs; and would not drive his motor vehicle again that day.
Within hours of that, the suit said, Rosales was walking with her children when they were struck by the car driven by Rebernik while he was under the influence of drugs or other intoxicants.
At all these times, the suit said, the police department, borough and other defendants “had a duty to exercise care for the care, safety and protection of plaintiffs and similarly situated members of the community, and otherwise carry out and discharge their duties to, among other things, take reasonable precautions during the investigation of persons suspected to be under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicants before releasing said persons believed to be under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicants and allowing them to operate a motor vehicle.”
In the first of four counts in the lawsuit, the plaintiff is seeking judgment and for damages with interest, costs of suit, attorney’s fees and other such relief due to the injuries sustained by Rosales and Daniel Ortega, and the death of Matías Ortega.
The second count in the suit alleges the pain and suffering endured by Rosales and Daniel Ortega in the loss of their son and brother, and also requests damages with interest, costs of the suit and attorney’s fees.
The third count alleges the anguish and emotional pain of Lorenzo Ortega, who witnessed the death of his son, Matías Ortega, and the serious bodily injuries to his wife, Rosales, and older son, Daniel Ortega. This count requests damages with interest, costs of the suit and attorney’s fees.
The fourth count alleges that Lorenzo Ortega will suffer the loss of the usual services of his wife and now must provide special services and care for her as a result of her injuries. This count also requests damages with interest, costs of suit and attorney’s fees.
Raritan Police Chief Raymond Nolte and Mayor Zachary Bray declined to comment on pending litigation.