MOUNT ARLINGTON, NJ – The motorist who struck and injured Mount Arlington Police Sgt. James Distasio in December feels terrible about the incident but insists he did nothing wrong.
Five times during an interview on Friday, the driver - Chatham lawyer William Anastasio - used the words “I feel awful” when recounting what happened at 6:50 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2018 near the intersection of Howard Boulevard and Seasons Drive.
“I want him to understand how sorry I am and I want to make it up to him,” said the 65-year-old lawyer. “I feel awful about this. I feel horrible.”
The incident seriously injured the popular 46-year-old sergeant, who was initially treated at Morristown Medical Center. Sharon McDonald, an acquaintance of Distasio who’s been helping with fundraisers on his behalf, said the officer is now at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Chester.
“He’s rehabbing,” McDonald said. “He’s talking. He has to learn how to walk again.”
A summons charging Anastasio with careless driving was written by Mount Arlington Police Lt. Ed Labruno, but the case was taken over by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and removed from municipal court. The prosecutor’s office has refused to discuss the matter, contending it remains under investigation.
‘He Stepped Right in Front of Me’
Disasio was struck by Anastasio’s car while he was working at the scene of a traffic incident. Anastasio said he was heading home when the accident happened.
“I was coming back from court in Mount Arlington and I was going the speed limit,” he said. “I had both hands on the wheel. I wasn’t using my cell phone. My lights were on.”
Anastasio said he came upon the traffic incident and slowed his Volvo wagon.
“Apparently in that area there was some kind of police activity,” he said. “There were a lot of officers there. I’m going less than the speed limit. There was a car stopped on the right side. As I passed that car, right in front of me stepped that officer. He was looking at me straight in the face. I slammed my brakes on.”
But there was no avoiding Distasio, said Anastasio. “He landed on my hood, on the right side,” he said. “I pulled right over. I got out of my car and ran up to him. By the time I got there, there were already officers right around him, about five police officers. I took my jacket off, to put it on him, but they said, ‘No don’t move him.’”
The lawyer said it appeared the sergeant “landed on the back of his head” on the pavement. He said there was a small spot of blood there.
“He had a radio and I found the cable from that radio on my right mirror,” Anastasio recalled.
He said he was questioned by several officers at the scene: “I voluntarily gave a blood test. I let them take my car. I took a urine test. I was interrogated by the Major Crimes Unit and several detectives. I answered all their questions. I was not given any tickets.”
A Letter in the Dirt
However, about a month and a half later Anastasio noticed a letter underneath the porch of his law office, he said. The letter contained a notice from the prosecutor’s office about the careless driving charge, Anastasio said.
“I found this underneath the porch of my office more than a month and half after the accident,” he said. “I found it on the ground. The mailbox is connected to my building. They must have shoved it in the mailbox, under the little flap.”
Anastasio said he doesn’t know if the prosecutor’s office is pursuing the matter, perhaps with a grand jury, or has opted to drop the careless driving charge. “I can’t imagine what a grand jury would do,” he said. “They have to show that I did something that was illegal or reckless. What was it? I wasn’t speeding. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do one thing wrong.”
He said the careless driving summons might relate to insurance or other money issues, suggesting there could be a financial aspect if Distasio was injured due to his own carelessness.
“These guys, in my opinion, are circling the wagons because their friend was injured,” said Anastasio. “I don’t know what their reasons are … This must have to do with something, that I don’t know about, that has to do with how much money this guy is going to get. The problem for me is that I can’t plead guilty for something that I didn’t do.”
No Bad Blood
Having said that, Anastasio insisted he has no bad history with Morris County law enforcement.
“It’s not because there’s some vendetta against me,” he commented. “I have a great relationship with all cops, judges, prosecutors, whatever. I don’t have any problem with that police department and any other police department ... I have the greatest respect for law enforcement. I really do. These guys put themselves on the line every day defending decent people against animals. I thank God every day for the prosecutors and police. They sacrifice themselves.”
Anastasio also said he’s come to understand that many people find Distasio to be a special kind of cop, one whose injury has evoked some very strong emotion.
“He has a history of donating enormous amounts of energy and time,” he said. He is well-respected in the community. He is well-respected by his peers. He is a wonderful man and I feel awful about this ... I’m sure he has tons of people he helped over his life. I feel awful for him.”
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