Paterson – Hawthorne resident James Woetzel, 51, was sentenced to 20 years in New Jersey State Prison, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes announced.
On August 10, 2014, Woetzel shocked the borough of Hawthorne, a day locals will long recall with heartbroken amazement. At about 2:12 p.m. while under the influence of difluoroethane, a chemical commonly found in compressed air cans such as those used to clean computer keyboards, Woetzel drove his new Dodge Ram pickup through the traffic barricades which closed off the Farmers Market on Grand Avenue.
Woetzel’s truck plowed through the Farmers Market as half a dozen stands were overturned, produce was smashed and scattered down Grand Avenue, two women suffered injuries for which they were hospitalized, and one life was tragically taken.
Fellow Hawthorne resident Donna Wine, 58, was at a vegetable stand when she was struck by the truck and pulled under, dragged just over three-tenths of a mile north on Grand Avenue, past Warburton, to where Legion Place meets Lafayette Avenue before another motorist successfully flagged Woetzel down. Wine, who resided not far from Woetzel on Diamond Bridge Avenue, was a mother of two and had worked as a hair stylist.
Woetzel was taken into custody and Wine was pronounced dead at the scene.
At his trial, Woetzel was represented by attorneys Leigh Saltiel and Jeremy Richmond. The prosecution was represented by Assistant Prosecutor Julie Serfess and Assistant Prosecutor Stephen Bollenbach. During the trial, Dr. Robert Pandina, a psycho-pharmacologist, testified that Woetzel exhibited signs of difluorethane influence and had been in a blackout when he drove his truck through the barricades, destroyed the Farmers Market, struck Wine, and continued driving.
Following a little over a day of deliberations, on September 14, 2017, the jury found Woetzel guilty on the charges of “first degree aggravated manslaughter”, second degree “death by auto”, and first degree “death by auto within 1,000 feet of a school”.
Woetzel was found not guilty of a second degree offense, “knowingly leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death”.
Judge Joseph A. Portelli sentenced Woetzel to twenty years in New Jersey State Prison for aggravated manslaughter. Eighty-five percent of the prison term is to be served before Woetzel’s parole, in accordance with the No Early Release Act, and thereafter will serve five years of parole supervision. The aggravated manslaughter sentencing was ordered to run concurrently with the conviction of first degree death by auto.
In addition, Judge Portelli revoked Woetzel’s driving privileges for twenty years, beginning the day of his release.